The Start of Cassini’s Grand Finale
For the first time ever, our Cassini spacecraft dove through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings on April 26. At 5 a.m. EDT, Cassini crossed the ring plane with its science instruments turned on and collecting data.
During this dive, the spacecraft was not in contact with Earth. The first opportunity to regain contact with the spacecraft is expected around 3 a.m. EDT on April 27.
This area between Saturn and its rings has never been explored by a spacecraft before. What we learn from these daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve.
So, you might be asking…how did this spacecraft maneuver its orbit between Saturn and its rings? Well…let us explain!
On April 22, Cassini made its 127th and final close approach to Saturn’s moon Titan. The flyby put the spacecraft on course for its dramatic last act, known as the Grand Finale.
As the spacecraft passed over Titan, the moon’s gravity bent its path, reshaping the robotic probe’s orbit slightly so that instead of passing just outside Saturn’s main rings, Cassini would begin a series of 22 dives between the rings and the planet.
With this assist, Cassini received a large increase in velocity of approximately 1,925 mph with respect to Saturn.
This final chapter of exploration and discovery is in many ways like a brand-new mission. Twenty-two times, the Cassini spacecraft will dive through the unexplored space between Saturn and its rings. What we learn from these ultra-close passes over the planet could be some of the most exciting revelations ever returned by the long-lived spacecraft.
Throughout these daring maneuvers, updates will be posted on social media at:
Updates will also be available online at: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/grand-finale/milestones/
Follow along with us during this mission’s Grand Finale!
Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com