NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft, Prepares for Saturn Mission Ring-Grazing Orbits

NASA's engineers of the Cassini spacecraft have been pumping up the spacecraft’s orbit around Saturn this year to increase its tilt with respect to the planet’s equator and rings. And on November 30, following a gravitational nudge from Saturn’s moon Titan, Cassini spacecraft will enter the first phase of the mission’s dramatic endgame. According to NASA, between November 30, 2016 and April 22, 217, Cassini spacecraft will be circling high above Saturn but well under the poles.

NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft

As described by NASA, Cassini orbits Saturn, studying the ringed planet and its moons in detail. The Huygens probe landed on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in January 2005. Cassini–Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn. It is a flagship-class NASA–ESA–ASI robotic spacecraft Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit, and its mission is ongoing as of 2016. It has studied the planet and its many natural satellites since arriving there in 2004.

Cassini continued to study the Saturn system in the following years, and continues to operate as of 2016, although it is currently going to be destroyed in 2017 by flying into Saturn, since is it is running out of fuel for orbital corrections. The probe will dive into the planet to avoid potential biological contamination of Saturn's moons. The partnership represents an undertaking whose scope and cost would not likely be borne by a single nation, but made possible through shared investment and participation.

NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft, Prepares for Saturn Mission Ring-Grazing Orbits

According to TechTimes, Cassini will dive every seven days through the unchecked regions of Saturn, including the outer edge of the main rings, to deliver new data. Cassin's ring grazing will expose it to particles of gases near the rings. During the orbiting, Cassini will also strike two small moons named Janus and Epimetheus as it passes a faint ring. Grazing the ring edges will mean advantages of close encounters with the outer portions of Saturn's main rings such as the A, B and F rings.

"We're calling this phase of the mission Cassini's Ring-Grazing Orbits, because we'll be skimming past the outer edge of the rings," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. The Cassini's vital instruments can sample particles and gases while crossing the ring plane and that makes Cassini really "grazing" on the rings. Next year, the ring crossings will take the spacecraft closer to the dusty reaches of the F ring, which will be the closest range a NASA mission has ever come.


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