Tech & Science NASA is about to crash a nuclear-powered robot into Saturn -- here's when and how Cassini's final moments will go down in history

02:38  14 september  2017
02:38  14 september  2017 Source:   Business Insider Australia

NASA's Cassini spacecraft nears a fiery, brutal end, when it will plunge into Saturn

  NASA's Cassini spacecraft nears a fiery, brutal end, when it will plunge into Saturn After 13 years of observing Saturn, its rings and its myriad moons, NASA's Cassini spacecraft is less than three weeks away from a fiery, brutal end. Early in the morning on Sept. 15 the aging spacecraft will hurl itself into Saturn's atmosphere at speeds of more than 75,000 mph.It's a deliberate death plunge from which it has no hope of returning.Within three minutes of diving into Saturn's tenuous upper layers, the two-story-tall spacecraft will be torn apart.Then it will melt.

× NASA is about to crash a nuclear - powered robot into Saturn — here ' s when and how Cassini ' s final moments will go down in history . An illustration of NASA 's Cassini probe as it plunges into the clouds of Saturn .

× NASA is about to create a .26 billion nuclear - powered meteor in Saturn ' s clouds. An illustration of NASA ' s Cassini probe plunging into the clouds of Saturn . NASA /JPL-Caltech. NASA ' s Cassini probe at Saturn will be destroyed on September 15.

Cassini saturn grand finale illustration artwork nasa jpl caltech 14© Provided by Business Insider Inc Cassini saturn grand finale illustration artwork nasa jpl caltech 14
  • NASA has sent its $US3.26-billion Cassini Saturn mission into a death spiral.
  • Called the "Grand Finale," the months-manoeuvre is meant to protect possible alien life on Saturn's ocean-hiding moons.
  • Cassini will be destroyed in Saturn's clouds around 6:32 a.m. EDT on Friday.

The end is nigh for Cassini, a spacecraft that launched in 1997 and has explored Saturn and its moons for 13 years.

However, scientists will squeeze every last discovery they can from the probe during its final moments.

NASA is destroying the nuclear-powered robot early Friday morning because it has run very low on propellant. Burning that fuel has led to countless discoveries, including a giant hexagon on Saturn's north pole and a vast ocean of liquid water -- and possibly alien life -- below the icy crust of the moon Enceladus.

Cassini Captured Some Incredible Photos Of Saturn's Rings

  Cassini Captured Some Incredible Photos Of Saturn's Rings Last month Cassini took the most detailed photos of Saturn's rings that it has even captured.But before the craft performs its final act of science, it’s been completing several loops of the rings of Saturn. That science would have never been possible without the finale orchestrated the way it has been. So far it’s resulted in some stunning images of Saturn, some of which NASA released Thursday.

NASA ' s Cassini probe is doomed. The nuclear - powered robot — part of a .26 billion, three-decade-long effort — has orbited Saturn for nearly 13 years. NASA doesn't want to risk crashing Cassini into any of Saturn ' s icy moons, since it could contaminate their hidden oceans.

Here ’ s a break down of what will happen as the final day approaches. NASA ' s Cassini probe is plunging to its death. The nuclear - powered spacecraft has orbited Saturn for 13 years, and sent back hundreds

But it's also created a problem, since the spacecraft is dusted with earthly microbes.

"Cassini's own discoveries were its demise," Earl Maize, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who manages the Cassini mission, previously told reporters. "We cannot risk inadvertent contact with that pristine body."

Enceladus plume© Provided by Business Insider Inc Enceladus plume

Instead of chucking Cassini into the void of space, mission managers in 2010 decided to squeeze every last ounce of the probe's fuel tanks at Saturn.

With one last big burn in April 2017, the probe began a spectacular death spiral called the "Grand Finale." This manoeuvre slipped Cassini through a veritable cosmic keyhole: a small gap between Saturn and its rings.

9 Essential Facts About Saturn

  9 Essential Facts About Saturn On September 15, scientists will intentionally crash the Cassini spacecraft into Saturn. Here are some essential facts about Saturn to get you ready for the big event.Mental Floss is going to be inside mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, as the scientists send Cassini on its grand finale mission. We'll have a full dispatch for you. In anticipation, we spoke to Saturn experts to find out what you need to know about the planet before Cassini takes its final plunge.

Called Cassini -Huygens - or Cassini for short - the golden nuclear - powered spacecraft launched in However, Maize and a collaboration of researchers from 19 nations aren't going to let their plucky probe go down without a fight. "That last 'kiss goodbye' will put Cassini into Saturn ," Maize said.

× NASA ' s Cassini probe is about to plunge to its doom — and its fiery death may be visible to telescopes on Earth. The nuclear - powered robot was launched in 1997 year to deeply study Saturn and its mysterious collection of moons.

So far, the probe has made 22 ring crossings. On Friday, it will make one final orbit, plunge into the Saturnian atmosphere, and burst into light as an artificial meteor.

"Cassini has got to be put safely away," Maize previously said. The decision was made at the recommendation of NASA's planetary protection office.

With just days left in the mission, here's what to expect and when, according to NASA JPL.

Note: Since beams of light (and data transmissions) take more than an hour to reach Earth from Saturn, all times are from Cassini's vantage unless otherwise noted.

Final Grand Finale data download

When: Friday, Sept. 9 -- 9:07 a.m. EDT

What: Cassini beamed back images and other data from the probe's final crossing between Saturn and its rings.

Titan's 'goodbye kiss'

Cassini spacecraft titan illustration nasa jpl caltech© Provided by Business Insider Inc Cassini spacecraft titan illustration nasa jpl caltech When: Monday, Sept. 11 -- 3:04 p.m. EDT

What: A flyby of Titan, a moon the size of planet Mercury, that put Cassini on course to slam into Saturn.

The NASA Team That Kills Spacecraft

  The NASA Team That Kills Spacecraft Planning the death of a billion-dollar project is a calculated and emotional endeavor.Jupiter saw a similar tail of fire streak through its atmosphere back in 2003, when the Galileo probe turned to face the planet, fired its thrusters, and sped into Jupiter at 108,000 miles per hour. More than a year earlier, a team of people at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had decided they would kill the spacecraft by throwing it into into the giant planet. It’s a decision not to be taken lightly, especially when these missions cost billions of dollars and can take decades of planning.

NASA ' s Cassini probe at Saturn will be destroyed on September 15. Earl Maize, an engineer at NASA ' s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who manages the Cassini mission, said the robot would take whatever readings it can during its final plunge into the clouds.

Launched 20 years ago, NASA ' s Cassini explorer is set to crash into the rings of Saturn in two days. Cassini was launched in 2004, and set on the final chapter of its almost two decade long journey in April this year.

"Instead of passing safely into and out of Saturn's outermost atmosphere," NASA JPL wrote on its site, "Cassini will instead dip so deeply into the atmosphere that the spacecraft will burn up like a meteor."

Soaring before the plunge

When: Tuesday, Sept. 12 -- 1:27 a.m. EDT

What: Cassini reached its farthest point from Saturn, called an orbital apoapsis, before beginning its final descent toward the planet. The spacecraft was about 800,000 miles away from Saturn.

Last images of Titan

When: Tuesday, Sept. 12 -- 7:56 p.m. EDT

What: All of the images Cassini took of Saturn's moon Titan during its "goodbye kiss" were sent home.

Speeding toward doom

When: Tuesday, Sept. 12 - Friday, Sept. 15

What: Cassini will gradually accelerate as Saturn -- a planet 95 times the mass of Earth -- drags the probe toward its destruction. The robot will reach a speed of about 78,000 mph before splintering into glowing, meteoric pieces.

Cassini's final photos

Daphnis© Provided by Business Insider Inc Daphnis When: Thursday, Sept. 14 -- 3:56 p.m. EDT

What: The probe will take one final image before shutting down its camera system. That picture will be of Saturn "looking toward the dark side of the planet at the impact location" in infrared light, plus -- in visible light -- "a fairly dark observation showing in the area lit by reflected light from the rings," Preston Dyches, a spokesperson for NASA JPL, told Business Insider in an email.

Where Are Our Nine Farthest Probes?

  Where Are Our Nine Farthest Probes? As Cassini prepares for its final plunge into Saturn's atmosphere, here is a look at where our furthest scouts of the outer solar system.The stunning images of Saturn’s rings that have been sent back by Cassini will always be a testament to the brave plunges the little explorer took into the untouched parts of the cosmos leading up to the final plunge.

To prevent Cassini from crashing into and contaminating the oceans on Saturn ' s moons, NASA has directed it onto a crash course with the planet itself. NASA ' s Cassini probe is plunging to its death. The nuclear - powered spacecraft has orbited Saturn for 13 years, and sent back hundreds of

Cassini ’ s “grand finale,” as NASA is calling it, might be its most impressive feat to date. Cassini will spend its final months getting an unprecedented look at If Cassini doesn’t crash into Saturn , it runs the risk of potentially contaminating one of Saturn ’ s moons with debris and microbes from Earth.

Dyches added: "Prior to that, the last image will be of one of the propeller features in the rings."

Live transmission begins

When: Thursday, Sept. 14 -- 4:22 p.m. EDT

What: Cassini reorients itself so that its big, non-moving antenna dish is pointed toward Earth, allowing NASA to download all data it's recorded (included the final photos). The spacecraft will fight to maintain this position for the next 14 hours and 30 minutes -- right until the moment it burns up -- so that it can transmit atmospheric and other data in real-time.

Australia tracks Cassini

When: Thursday, Sept. 14 -- 11:15 p.m. EDT

What: A Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia, will point its giant radio dishes at Saturn to receive track Cassini and receive its final signals until the probe dies.

The Grand Finale -- Friday, Sept. 15

Spacecraft roll, live transmission starts

When: 3:14 a.m. EDT

What: A few hours before burning up, and while keeping its antenna pointed at Earth, Cassini will take five minutes to roll itself into a new position. This will point an instrument called the ion and neutral mass spectrometer, or INMS, toward Saturn -- allowing NASA to "sniff" the planet's atmospheric gases.

As Cassini rolls, its computer will reconfigure for live transmission of atmospheric data. The bandwidth will be just 3.4 kilobytes per second -- about 830 times slower than the average download speed of a US mobile phone -- but it will be enough to get crucial data about the composition of Saturn's gases home to Earth.

Australia will play a vital role as Cassini crashes into Saturn

  Australia will play a vital role as Cassini crashes into Saturn When the Cassini space probe makes its final descent into Saturn later today, data from the final nine hours of the mission will be sent back to NASA’s tracking station in Canberra, Australia. As the probe descends, it will capture images and data from Saturn and its atmosphere, revealing more of the planet’s secrets. Under the spacecraft’s normal operations, its instruments first store and later forward images and data to Earth.But in Cassini’s final hours, it will be transmitting home in real time, with the signals picked up by the CSIRO-managed Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC).

NASA is about to say a fond farewell to its Cassini spacecraft. After 13 years of exploring Saturn and its mysterious moons, Cassini is running out of fuel. Here ’ s a break down of what will happen as the final day approaches.

Launched toward Saturn in 1997, the Cassini spacecraft has been in outer space nearly 20 years and is slowly running low on fuel. To avoid crashing and contaminating a nearby moon that is suspected to harbor alien life, NASA is going to destroy the robot .

Atmospheric entry, thrusters fire

When: 6:31 a.m. EDT

What: Cassini starts to plunge into the outer fringes of Saturn's thick atmosphere -- something the probe was never designed to do. It won't go silently to its death, though: Cassini will start firing its position-changing thrusters at 10% of "open throttle" to keep its antenna dish pointed at Earth as gases buffet the spacecraft.

Loss of contact

When: 6:32 a.m. EDT

What: About a minute after ramming into Saturn's atmosphere at up to 78,000 mph, Cassini's computer will boost the thrusters to 100% to keep the live transmission going.

However, the robot won't win this battle. Maize and Julie Webster, an aerospace engineer and manager of the Cassini spacecraft, told reporters during an August 29 teleconference that the probe has about 60 lbs of propellant out of the 6,900 lbs it started with to use -- not enough to right the antenna during the entire descent. At some point Cassini will begin to tumble toward its doom.

Total destruction

When: Seconds to minutes after signal loss

What: Cassini will heat up more rapidly the deeper and faster it dives. In fact, "temperatures around the spacecraft will increase by 30-to-100 times per minute" as it descends, NASA said.

  NASA is about to crash a nuclear-powered robot into Saturn -- here's when and how Cassini's final moments will go down in history © Provided by Business Insider Inc

Insulating gold-coloured blankets will char and break off first, followed by Cassini's antenna, 30-foot-long magnetometer boom, and other loose or fragile parts. Carbon blocks full of plutonium-238 fuel will last the longest.

"It will basically disintegrate ... long before we hit any real surface of Saturn," Webster said. "Not too long after we lose signal, we'll have already started to be 200 to 500 degrees centigrade -- within seconds. We'll start to melt. All parts of it."

NASA is now receiving the last photos ever taken by the Cassini probe at Saturn

  NASA is now receiving the last photos ever taken by the Cassini probe at Saturn NASA is destroying its Cassini spacecraft at Saturn on Friday. Earth is now receiving the probe's final batch of photos, which will be uploaded to NASA's servers by early Friday morning. The data will include pictures of Saturn, its rings, large icy moons, and the exact spot Cassini will dive into.NASA has begun to receive the last photos ever taken by its doomed Cassini probe at Saturn, and will soon upload them to its public servers.Cassini -- a bus-size, nuclear-powered robot -- launched toward the planet in 1997.

Nasa had to make a final decision about it, it had only 2 options (1) To keep it running untill it can and then let it crash anywhere (2) Give it a farewell and crash Cassini into the desired place. Nasa decided to go with option 2, well whats wrong with number 1?

If you read our article on the Cassini spacecraft you might recall that, at the end, we said it was going to be purposefully sent crashing into Saturn in 2017 to prevent the contamination of nearby moons. Tags: amazing spacecraft, cassini -huygens, ESA, NASA , saturn impact.

"The deepest it could possibly go in the atmosphere is about 200 kilometers, or 120 miles," Eric Strum, a Cassini mission planner, said on the call. He added that Cassini will disintegrate "thousands of kilometers" above what scientists consider the "surface" of Saturn -- where air pressure is the same as on Earth's surface.

Once fully melted, NASA said, "Cassini's materials will sink deep into Saturn and mix with the hot, high-pressure atmosphere of the giant planet to be completely diluted."

Photos of Cassini exploding(?)

  NASA is about to crash a nuclear-powered robot into Saturn -- here's when and how Cassini's final moments will go down in history © Provided by Business Insider IncWhen: 1 hour, 23 minutes, and 28 seconds after Cassini is destroyed

What: This is about how long the bursts of light caused by Cassini's death will take to reach Earth. (Saturn will be some 932,822,000 miles away at that moment, according to "NASA's Eyes on the Solar System" software.)

The Hubble space telescope might have recorded Cassini's death in ultraviolet light -- the strongest signal the probe will emit as it burns up. But Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist and a planetary scientist at NASA JPL, told Business Insider that Hubble won't be in a position to see Cassini die.

Spilker is hopeful that professional observatories and hobbyist astronomers in the southern hemisphere catch a glimpse, especially if several kilograms of Cassini's hydrazine fuel explodes brightly in the final moments.

"We've got sort of the double-whammy of a little tiny spacecraft that's really not that massive hitting on basically the day side of Saturn. So it's unlikely, but it's definitely worth looking," Spilker told Business Insider. "It's gonna be tough, but I'm hopeful."

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft at Saturn nears fiery finale .
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft at Saturn closed in on its fiery finish early Friday, following a remarkable journey of 20 years. Cassini was on course to plunge through Saturn’s atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor. Flight controllers at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory expect one last burst of scientific data from Cassini, before the radio waves go flat — and the spacecraft falls silent.

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