NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Ends Its Historic Exploration of Saturn
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
September 15, 2017
A thrilling epoch in the exploration of our solar system came to a close
today, as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made a fateful plunge into the atmosphere
of Saturn, ending its 13-year tour of the ringed planet.
"This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it's also a new
beginning," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's
Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Cassini's
discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking
our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential
life beyond Earth."
On Sept. 15, 2017, Cassini plunged into Saturn, ending its 20-year mission
of discovery. Scenes from mission control, TV commentary and the post-end-of-mission
news briefing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Telemetry received during the plunge indicates that, as expected, Cassini
entered Saturn's atmosphere with its thrusters firing to maintain stability,
as it sent back a unique final set of science observations. Loss of contact
with the Cassini spacecraft occurred at 4:55 a.m. PDT (7:55 a.m. EDT),
with the signal received by NASA's Deep Space Network antenna complex
in Canberra, Australia.
"It's a bittersweet, but fond, farewell to a mission that leaves behind
an incredible wealth of discoveries that have changed our view of Saturn
and our solar system, and will continue to shape future missions and research,"
said Michael Watkins, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, California, which manages the Cassini mission for the agency.
JPL also designed, developed and assembled the spacecraft.
In its final hours, NASA's Cassini spacecraft returned these last looks
at Saturn, its rings and moons, as it prepared to end its nearly 20-year
voyage in space. This video includes the final image Cassini took, which
shows the cloud tops where it would later plunge into the atmosphere.
Cassini's plunge brings to a close a series of 22 weekly "Grand Finale"
dives between Saturn and its rings, a feat never before attempted by any
"The Cassini operations team did an absolutely stellar job guiding the
spacecraft to its noble end," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager
at JPL. "From designing the trajectory seven years ago, to navigating
through the 22 nail-biting plunges between Saturn and its rings, this
is a crack shot group of scientists and engineers that scripted a fitting
end to a great mission. What a way to go. Truly a blaze of glory."
As planned, data from eight of Cassini's science instruments was beamed
back to Earth. Mission scientists will examine the spacecraft's final
observations in the coming weeks for new insights about Saturn, including
hints about the planet's formation and evolution, and processes occurring
in its atmosphere.
"Things never will be quite the same for those of us on the Cassini team
now that the spacecraft is no longer flying," said Linda Spilker, Cassini
project scientist at JPL. "But, we take comfort knowing that every time
we look up at Saturn in the night sky, part of Cassini will be there,
Go behind the scenes in a 360-degree view inside mission control to see
as we await the FINAL signal and science data until the very last moment
from our Cassini spacecraft. After nearly 20 years in space, NASA's Cassini
mission to Saturn is at the end of its remarkable journey of exploration.
Cassini launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida
and arrived at Saturn in 2004. NASA extended its mission twice - first
for two years, and then for seven more. The second mission extension provided
dozens of flybys of the planet's icy moons, using the spacecraft's remaining
rocket propellant along the way. Cassini finished its tour of the Saturn
system with its Grand Finale, capped by Friday's intentional plunge into
the planet to ensure Saturn's moons - particularly Enceladus, with its
subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity - remain pristine
for future exploration.
While the Cassini spacecraft is gone, its enormous collection of data
about Saturn - the giant planet, its magnetosphere, rings and moons -
will continue to yield new discoveries for decades to come.
Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California,
awaited the final transmission from the Cassini spacecraft as it plunged
into Saturn's atmosphere ending its 20-year voyage of discovery. \u203a
"Cassini may be gone, but its scientific bounty will keep us occupied
for many years," Spilker said. "We've only scratched the surface of what
we can learn from the mountain of data it has sent back over its lifetime."
An online toolkit with information and resources for Cassini's Grand Finale
is available at:
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European
Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech
in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate
News Media Contact
Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters, Washington
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.