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Cassini: The Grand Finale
Sep 15, 2017

[GS Paper III: (Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, Robotics, Nano-technology, bio-technology)]

Why in news? 

  • On September 15, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft made its final dive into the Saturn’s atmosphere and got crushed by the planet’s pressure and temperature. 
  • The robotic spacecraft came to an end after two decades of flight and thirteen years of spectacular discovery around Saturn. 

NASA’s Cassini mission

  • Cassini–Huygens was an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn on October 15, 1997 and entered orbit around Saturn on July 1, 2004, after an interplanetary voyage that included flybys of Earth, Venus, and Jupiter.
  • Cassini was the fourth space probe to visit Saturn (Pioneer 11, Voyager1, Voyager 2) and the first to enter its orbit. 
  • It studied the planet and its many natural satellites since arriving there in 2004.
  • Its design included a Saturn orbiter and a lander for the Saturn’s moon Titan. The lander (called Huygens) landed on Titan in 2005. The two-part spacecraft is named after astronomers Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens.
  • Huygens entered Titan's atmosphere in 2005 and descended to the surface. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System.

Achievements of Cassini

  • Its key discoveries have included the global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity within Enceladus – a potential target for scientists that can harbour life – and seas of liquid methane on Titan (Enceladus and Titan are moons of Saturn). 
  • In its final run, the spacecraft made detailed maps of Saturn’s gravity and magnetic fields, revealing how the planet is arranged internally, and possibly helping to solve the mystery of just how fast Saturn is rotating. 
  • NASA chose to safely dispose of the spacecraft in the atmosphere of Saturn to avoid the unlikely possibility of Cassini someday colliding with any of Saturn’s moons.

Reasons for ending Cassini mission

  • By 2017, Cassini had spent 13 years in orbit around Saturn, following a seven-year journey from Earth.
  • The spacecraft was running low on the rocket fuel used for adjusting its course. If left unchecked, this situation would have eventually prevented mission operators from controlling the course of the spacecraft.
  • Two moons of Saturn, Enceladus and Titan, have captured news headlines over the past decade as Cassini data revealed their potential to contain habitable - or at least "prebiotic" - environments.
  • In order to avoid the unlikely possibility of Cassini someday colliding with one of these moons, NASA had chosen to safely dispose of the spacecraft in the atmosphere of Saturn.
  • This ensured that Cassini could not contaminate any future studies of habitability and potential life on those moons.

 

Important Missions of NASA
Mission Title Overview
Juno Study formation and evolution of Jupiter
Kepler Kepler is a space telescope designed to survey a portion of the Milky Way galaxy in search of exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system. 
Voyager 1 Explored the Jovian and Saturnian systems and reached interstellar space in August 2012.
Voyager 2 Only spacecraft to have ever visited Uranus and Neptune and is currently making its way to interstellar space.
Cassini- Huygens To study Saturn and its numerous moons.
Dawn

To characterize the conditions and processes that shaped our solar system, orbited the protoplanet Vesta and is now in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres

Vesta and Ceres are the two most massive bodies in the main asteroid belt).

Curiosity The rover is a long-term effort of robotic exploration of Mars.
Europa Detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter's moon Europa and investigate whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.
Hubble Space Telescope First major optical telescope to be placed in space, used to observe the most distant stars and galaxies as well as the planets in our solar system.
Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) Robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. 
Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) To explore the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind.
MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging) To determine why Mercury is so much denser and more metal-rich than Venus, Earth, and Mars.
New Horizons To make the first reconnaissance of the dwarf planet Pluto and by venturing deeper into the distant Kuiper Belt. 
Phoenix  To study the history of water in the Martian arctic and search for evidence of a habitable zone.
Rosetta  To catch the comet "67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko" (C-G) and answer some of our questions about comets.


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