Saturn probe to set up the death of immersion

NASA/JPL

The international Cassini probe at Saturn is going to execute the course correction on Monday that will put you on the path to destruction.

The spacecraft is set to fly close to the giant moon Titan – a encounter that will curve your trajectory just enough to send to the atmosphere of the ringed planet, on Friday.

Once the orbit has been changed, nothing can stop the death of immersion.

Cassini will break into pieces in a matter of seconds of entering Saturn’s gases.

“The latest flyby of Titan will put Cassini on a shocking path, and there is absolutely no that comes out of it,” said Earl Maize, Cassini program manager of the space agency (Nasa).

NASA/JPL-CALTECH/SSI/JASON MAJOR

“We’re going to go as deep in the atmosphere of the spacecraft does not have a chance to get out.”

Since he came to the Saturn 13 years ago, the probe used the gravity of Titan – second largest moon in the Solar System – honda himself in different positions from which to study the planet and its stunning rings.

It has been a smart strategy because Cassini would have otherwise had to fire up its propulsion system and the drainage of its reserves of fuel every time you wanted to make a big change in direction.

As it is, the thrusters are nearly exhausted, and Nasa determines that the space ship will not be allowed to drift around Saturn uncontrolled; it must be disposed of properly and completely.

The agency is calling this next Titan encounter the “last goodbye”.

It is not really all that close. The closest Cassini will get to the surface of the moon – scheduled to occur at 19:04 GMT (20:04 BST; 15:04 EDT; 12:04 PDT) – is around 120,000 km But the boost it provides will be enough to send the mission to its fiery conclusion at the end of the week.

As the probe passes Titan, you will take a last set of images of this extraordinary world where orange skies produce liquid methane rains that run in huge seas, and where the vast sand dunes on the surface of the moon is made of a plastic, such as sand.

NASA/JPL-CALTECH/SSI

Cassini scientist Michelle Dougherty from Imperial College, London, uk, says that there is an effort in these final days to squeeze every last scientific observation.

“We are now selling smoke,” he told BBC Radio 4 Inside Science programme.

“The fact that we have so far as we are, so close to the end of the mission, is spectacular. We’re almost there and it’s going to be very sad to see it happen.”

In addition to Titan, the scientists want to take a few more photos of the rings and the moon Enceladus, prior to the configuration of the spacecraft for its sinking.

The idea is to use only those instruments so that you can sense of Saturn, near the space environment, such as its magnetic field, or can taste the composition of its gases.

At the end of three hours before impact Friday all the data collected by the spacecraft will be relayed live to Earth, without passing through the on-board solid state memory.

The contact with the probe after it has been entered in the atmosphere will last only a few seconds.

The signal on Earth is expected to fall around 11:55 GMT (12:55 BST; 07:55 EDT; 04:55 PDT).

“The Cassini mission has taught us so much, and to me personally, it’s a great comfort in the fact that Cassini will continue to teach us until the last few seconds,” said Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist at Nasa Headquarters in Washington, DC.

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453,000 images taken

2.5 million of the commands that are executed

635GB of the science of the data collected

3,948 science papers published

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Cassini is a joint effort between Nasa and the European and Italian space agencies.

BBC news will have live coverage of the end of the mission in TELEVISION and radio. Within the Science of preview the climax of this Thursday at 16:30 BST on Radio 4 . A special Horizon documentary of the revision of the mission and in the last few hours, on Monday 20 September at 21:00 BST on BBC two.

[email protected] and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos