27.04.2017
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Grand final of space journey

Cassini приступил к завершающей стадии 20-летней миссии по изучению Сатурна

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What happened?

The spacecraft Cassini, designed to explore Saturn and its moons, has entered the last phase of its journey – the Grand Finale. The probe will “dive” into the previously unexplored space between the planet and its rings, allowing scientists to obtain unique data, and then will be burned in the upper atmosphere of Saturn. So ends his journey, which lasted almost 20 years.

What is Cassini?
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Cassini during a test

The robot spacecraft Cassini was developed in a joint project of NASA, the European space agency and the Italian space agency in 1997. It was given a unique task – to reach Saturn, the sixth planet of the Solar system, and explore the planet itself, its moons and famous rings. The unit is equipped with all the necessary equipment from the sensors of cosmic dust to the radio antennas.

Here you can get acquainted with Cassini for a closer look.

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Huygens in the cut

An important part of the spacecraft was the Huygens module, which was supposed to land on the surface of Titan – one of Saturn’s moons, in order to examine the detailed.

Thus, the mission Cassini-Huygens was to become one of the most important achievements of mankind in space exploration. Automatic spacecraft would reach Saturn, becoming its first artificial satellite, and a lander module for the first time would land on the surface of Titan.

The Story of Cassini. Take-off

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Cassini went in flight on 15 October 1997 from Cape Canaveral in Florida. To start it took a special booster “Titan-4B” with an additional upper stage “Centaurus”. Saturn, as you know, is at a great distance from the Earth – that is what forced scientists to resort to such measures. However, not even this was enough: Cassini went not to the point of its destination but… Venus.

The maneuver, which can cause confusion for an untrained person, however, was part of a well-planned operation. Cassini had to overcome the distance to Saturn with minimal expenditure of energy in order to successfully complete the task. For this, the researchers used the gravitational fields of the three planets: Venus, Earth and Jupiter.

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the Presumed trajectory of Cassini

26 April 1998 Cassini skirted Venus, having received the required acceleration, then corrected its course and again passed the “evening star”. After that, the spacecraft flew between the Earth and the Moon and went to the purpose of his journey. About the middle of the road Cassini flybied Jupiter and July 1, 2004, after 7 years of flying, entered the orbit of Saturn.

The Story of Cassini. The study of Saturn
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“Eyes of Saturn”

However, a space odyssey of Cassini-Huygens has not ended – here began the most interesting part – the study of Saturn and its moons. The spacecraft spent in orbit of the planet nearly 13 years and took lots of pictures of the object of study and its satellites. The Cassini’s camera allowed scientists to see Saturn from a very close distance, visually examine its atmosphere and eddies in it.

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the Surface of Rhea

Cassini also made the most important pictures of Saturn’s moons, through which scientists have learned, for example, the existence of liquids on Titan. Being an artificial satellite of the planet, the spacecraft could not move away from it at a considerable distance, but even this did not prevent him to capture some stunning photos of Titan, Enceladus, Tethys, Mimas and other moons of “the planet with rings”.

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Clouds on Titan

Module Huygens, in turn, was preoccupied with more problems – he managed to land on the surface of Titan and take samples from soil and atmosphere of Saturn’s moon. Because of this, scientists have learned that the surface of this moon has lakes, and also recorded several chemical anomalies, which may indicate the presence of life on Titan.

To learn more about the most important results of the Cassini-Huygens mission see this timeline:

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The Story of Cassini. Grand Finale

April 26, 2017, Cassini launched the final phase of it’s journey, which is called the Grand Finale. The spacecraft first entered the space between Saturn and its rings, allowing scientists to obtain photographs of the planet taken as close to.

22 rendezvous with Saturn are planned, and Cassini will not only take pictures of the planet, but also will gather important scientific data. The spacecraft must map the gravitational and magnetic fields of Saturn, analyze the composition of its rings and atmosphere.

Cassini will end it’s mission September 15, 2017, when the unit will go into the upper atmosphere of Saturn to study its composition. It will transmit to the Earth the most important data to the moment until it is destroyed. This method to complete the work Cassini was not chosen by chance – the device has been in space for 13 years already and has almost exhausted it’s resources. Leaving it in orbit of Saturn is dangerous because the probe can fall into one of the satellites of the planet and stop their study in the future. So NASA believe that burning Cassini in the atmosphere will be the best solution:

– Always sad to see the end of the mission, but the last flight, Cassini will be the greatest end of the most rich scientific space project. Now Cassini has virtually exhausted the reserves of fuel used to adjust course. If you leave things as they are, operators will no longer be able to control it. The burning of Cassini in the atmosphere ensures that it will not affect further research

Comments of participants of the  Cassini-huygens project

British Professor Carl Murray participated in the project for 27 years. In the interview he told the BBC why the Cassini mission is the most interesting expedition ever conducted:

CarlMurray3_06-2015_crop– It was an amazingly successful mission. For 13 years we have been studying the planet from its orbit. It turned out that Saturn and its satellites there are times of the year, and rings to alter their structure over time. One of the most amazing discoveries made by Cassini is an ocean of liquid water under ice on one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus. Through cracks in the ice cover of the ejected substance, and it contains molecular hydrogen, which on Earth is associated with water vapor and ocean depths and in General with life. People are always trying to figure out whether there was water on Mars and where it went. But now, I think the search will be concentrated on the periphery of the Solar system

Andrew Coates, British Professor of physics and Deputy Director of Muranowski laboratory for space research, worked on the project Cassini-Huygens for the past 28 years. Despite the success of the study, the scientist is sure that in the future mankind could expect more amazing discoveries:

11novPlanetCoat200– Now I am involved in the continuous search for life on Mars with the ExoMars Rover 2020 and the icy moons of Jupiter mission JUICE. In addition, in the mid-2020s, NASA plans to launch a mission of the Europa Clipper. It all sounds very tempting!

Gallery of the best photos by Cassini:

Additional information:

 

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