Launched in 1997, the Cassini spacecraft arrived among Saturn's rings in July 2004.
Here's what you need to know about the Cassini mission. Finally, they get to move on.
Cassini's imaging camera will take a last look at the Saturn system on the day before the plunge and will be off during this final descent.
Cassini has spent the past 13 years exploring Saturn, its dramatic rings and its icy moons.
News Corp Australia
Cassini's last five orbits will take it through Saturn's uppermost atmosphere, before a final plunge directly into the planet on September 15.
For Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist at JPL, the probe's investigation of the tiny moon Enceladus was the most exciting part of the mission. So instead, Cassini was powered by a small plutonium-fuelled nuclear reactor. (Except maybe whoever is tweeting on the orbiter's behalf.) Cassini's true value was as a science machine, and an exceptionally good one at that.
Even on the way down, the plucky spacecraft will continue to send back data.
Cassini also dispatched the Huygens lander to Titan, Saturn's largest moon, where it discovered a vast underground ocean, and liquid methane on its surface that undergoes a cycle similar to that of water on Earth. A set of planet-themed stamps issued in May 2016 chose a Hubble Space Telescope image of Saturn over one of Cassini's images.
Even among NASA missions, Cassini really is an overachiever.
From the early attempts to explore Saturn and its moons to the Cassini-Huygens mission, there have been trials and tribulations along the way. "And the finale has gone so smoothly it's downright spooky".
Saturn carried out exactly 127 precisely targeted encounters with Titan, either close or more distant ones, and some hundreds of other passes over it as well.
For more than a decade, NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn took "a magnifying glass" to the enchanting planet, its moons and rings.
"We study the stars because they tell us where we came from, and inspire us to imagine just how far we might go". "It's one of the things we expected to learn, but have not".
The mission has been an worldwide effort, involving NASA; the European Space Agency; the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana; and several other European contributors. Few would have suspected Titan would be teeming with complex organic molecules-not all that dissimilar from the building blocks of life. "When we started I was kind of the tutor and he the tutoree", Larry said. "But now, that's exactly what we're talking about doing". "The success with which Cassini brought together scientists from many different countries must be included in the long list of Cassini legacies".
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And really, Cassini has totally reshaped scientists' theories around oceans in general.
Titan has a number of Earth-like qualities and is the only (natural) satellite in our solar system that has a dense atmosphere. No spacecraft has ever been so close to Saturn. "It is as detailed and attractive as the ones that you can buy in a gift shop", Barber said. "Enceladus, Titan, and Europa and others like them are worthy of specific future exploration".
Speaking about Cassini, its lead propulsion engineer Todd Barber said. "It'll be a mixture of sadness and pride and joy at having worked on the mission and saying goodbye to my Cassini family". That's what Lunine calls "the $200 million per year question". It can be watched on Nasa tv live. "Right now we are on track for making "three-ish" teams very, very happy just in time for Christmas", said Curt Niebur of NASA Headquarters at a September 6 meeting of the Outer Planets Assessment Group, discussing the ongoing evaluation of New Frontiers proposals. "When you put a capable suite of instruments on a spacecraft, it gives you the opportunity to make discoveries in unexpected aways".
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