9th April 2017
NASA at Saturn: Cassini's Grand Finale
Cassini–Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft that was launched in October 1997 on a mission to Saturn. Arriving in July 2004, it became the fourth probe to visit this gas giant and the first to enter orbit. In January 2005, Huygens separated from the orbiter and landed on Saturn's largest moon Titan, returning images from the surface; the first such landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System.
Cassini continued to study the Saturn system in the following years, and continues to operate as of April 2017. However, due to the spacecraft's dwindling fuel resources for further orbital corrections, it is currently planned to be destroyed by diving into the planet's atmosphere in September 2017. This method of disposal was chosen to avoid potential biological contamination of Saturn's moons. The death spiral is set to officially begin on 22nd April with a series of 22 dives 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.
Cassini's final dive will take place on 15th September 2017, with a last batch of images being returned before it plunges into the upper atmosphere and burns up. The final chapter in a remarkable saga of exploration and discovery, Cassini's Grand Finale is, in some ways, almost like a brand new mission. This video tells the story of Cassini's final, daring assignment and looks back at what the mission has accomplished over the last 20 years.