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Cassini set to begin its grand finale

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July 2, 2014

Picture taken from Cassini in 2013, displaying the Earth as seen from orbit around Saturn ...

Picture taken from Cassini in 2013, displaying the Earth as seen from orbit around Saturn (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

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Having returned a vast number of incredible images of Saturn, her rings and her moons, NASA's Cassini spacecraft is reaching the final stage of its marathon mission. As such, and with the help of over 2,000 members of the general public, mission operators have selected a fitting name for the final maneuvers of the iconic spacecraft.

Cassini was launched in October 1997, and having made a round of Venus, Earth and Jupiter, arrived at its primary target of Saturn in 2004. June 30th saw the spacecraft celebrate its 10th year studying the ringed giant, something it has done so well and with such success and reliability that the orbiter has been granted several extensions beyond its initial mission duration.

Its most recent and possibly final mission is set to start late next year, and will see Cassini performing a challenging set of complicated maneuvers. The spacecraft will initially ascend high above Saturn's north pole, passing close to the planet's F ring. During this phase, the orbiter will study water geysers active on the moon Enceladus before passing between the planet and its rings, repeating the process 22 times.

It is hoped that these proximal orbits undertaken in the final stage of Cassini's mission will allow NASA scientists to unlock more of Saturn's secrets, including its internal structure, gravity, and magnetic fields. Once this final duty is complete, it is likely that Cassini's mission controllers will manipulate the spacecraft's orbit, allowing it to burn up in the atmosphere of the planet that it spent its life capturing in such majestic detail.

Cassini's images have been a source of untold inspiration for a generation of would-be astronomers, and so it seems fitting that NASA would reach out to the public when selecting the title for its final set of maneuvers. Based on the input of over 2,000 members of the public, mission operators selected the moniker "Cassini Grand Finale."

Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet propulsion Laboratory stated regarding the selection, "We chose a name for this mission phase that would reflect the exciting journey ahead while acknowledging that it's a big finish for what has been a truly great show."

Source: NASA

About the Author
Anthony Wood Anthony is a recent law school graduate who also has a degree in Ancient History, for some reason or another. Residing in the UK, Anthony has had a passion about anything space orientated from a young age and finds it baffling that we have yet to colonize the moon. When not writing he can be found watching American football and growing out his magnificent beard.   All articles by Anthony Wood
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4 Comments

Pity they could not try to study at least one of the moons in more detail - slow crash on Enceladus? - or be sent on a final mission to circle the sun (as close as they dare).

The Skud
2nd July, 2014 @ 07:36 pm PDT

With that finish, it should memorialize our new wisdom with "First and Last Interplanetary Plutonium Pollution Mission."

Bob Stuart
3rd July, 2014 @ 07:48 am PDT

As I see it, as we get better at building these systems we need to incorporate an ability to chase them, refuel and refit them in orbit and get as long a service life as the underlying hardware will permit. This activity in and of itself has tremendous technical and scientific value in permitting us to learn how to build long endurance hardware, and then to progressively, productively push out the definition of "long endurance". Not long from now we will go back to the moon as well as to Mars and we need to learn how to do this and how to provide support for the long term.

StWils
3rd July, 2014 @ 10:12 am PDT

As long as it has the capability to change orbits or at least change orientation to aim its sensors and antennae, it should be left in orbit around Saturn.

It's final disposition should be parked in a long term orbit to observe Saturn until its equipment begins to fail, only then dump it.

Set up an automatic, unmanned data recording system on Earth, to be periodically archived for students, scientists and the general public to sift through.

What's with throwing away still useful probes and satellites? The ISEE probe was let be when it was thought to be of no further use but now it's been reactivated because people thought of new things to do with it - saving a huge amount of money VS launching an all new probe to do what a resource already "on the scene" could do.

What was the recent one where it had plenty of fuel left, none of its equipment was failing, yet when the mission it was launched for was finished, the controllers ran its maneuvering engines until the tanks were empty. Such a waste! There was no danger to anything from it, except to the bottom lines of aerospace companies that might get contracts to build satellites in the future for observations that one might have been capable of doing had it just been abandoned in place like ISEE was.

Galane
3rd July, 2014 @ 08:18 pm PDT
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