Monday, September 11, 2017

Long Running Cassini Spacecraft Prepares For A Fiery Farewell In Saturn's Atmosphere

          From the Space Age Publishing Company

The sensational Cassini spacecraft is set for its grand finale plunge into Saturn starting 04:37 am EDT on Friday, September 15th. Final communication and craft disintegration is expected to occur 1,510 km above Saturn cloud tops at 07:54 am.

As outlined in the September 8th, 2017 NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory video post, "NASA's Cassini Spacecraft: A Journey's End," the epic, thirteen year Cassini mission to Saturn is coming to a close. On Sept. 15, the spacecraft "will make a planned plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn in order to protect pristine icy moons that warrant future exploration." Screenshot c/o JPL.

Cassini data will continue to provide revolutionary insight into Saturn, its complex rings, magnetic environment, giant storms, Solar System evolution and moons Enceladus with its icy jets and Titan liquid ethane and methane lakes and seas.

Launched together with Cassini on October 15th, 1997 the Huygens probe provided the first close up images of Titan and is the only landing accomplished in outer Solar System.

A joint effort of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency, the development of Cassini began in 1980s and thousands of people have contributed, many dedicating most of their careers to the significant mission.

Contributors include (TL-R) Program Secretary Karen Chan, Project Scientist Linda Spilker, Program Manager Earl Maize, and Propulsion Engineer Todd Barber.

As Cassini winds down, the NASA New Horizons spacecraft is expected to wake up on September 11th, 2017 for tests and instrument checks prior to its upcoming encounter with Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2017 MU69 at 12,500 km or closer on January 1st, 2019.

Recent observations indicate the KBO, discovered in June 2014 about 44 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun, could be a primordial 4-billion year old binary object with two lobes of diameters 20 and 18 km. New Horizons has the potential to observe around 20 other KBOs if the mission is extended further.

According to principal investigator Alan Stern (BL), "new exploration awaits us and promises a scientific bonanza for the flyby."

This story was originally published in the September 11-17, 2017 online edition of the Space Calendar Weekly (Vol 36, No 37).

The Space Age Publishing Company, publishes the Lunar Enterprise Daily and Space Calendar weekly. It operates offices on Hawai‘i Island, Hawaii and in Palo Alto, California. The Commercial Space blog exchanges banners, and sometimes stories, with them. 

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