NASA‘s existing Saturn mission is nearing its end after 13 long years, and everyone will be able to watch the spacecraft’s final moments. The space agency detailed the mission’s end yesterday, explaining that on September 15 (that’s tomorrow), the Cassini spacecraft will fall into Saturn’s atmosphere, marking both the end of it and its mission. As with many of its other notable events, the end of this mission will be broadcast on NASA TV.
Cassini’s fate is not one being forced upon NASA — the space agency explains that it is intentionally plunging the spacecraft into Saturn’s atmosphere to ensure it doesn’t disrupt any of the planet’s moons which will, no doubt, be further explored in the future.
The spacecraft has been especially active in the weeks and months leading up to tomorrow’s Grand Finale, as NASA calls it. Cassini has been performing weekly dives in the gaps between Saturn’s rings and the planet itself. These dives have been happening since April, providing researchers with vital information about the planet.
During its life, Cassini has given humanity a closer look at Saturn than any spacecraft before it. The spacecraft has returned many photos from its voyage, and has provided ample data for researchers around the world. Its final descent will be no different, as the spacecraft will be capturing information until the very end. A variety of instruments, including ultraviolet spectrometers and a plasma science instrument, will collect data about Saturn’s atmosphere as it falls.
Some of the information Cassini will gather during this descent can only be collected when the tools are in the atmosphere, not orbiting above it. This makes it one of Cassini’s most important projects to date, but will also mark its very last, as the descent will result in the destruction of the spacecraft.
Tune in to NASA TV starting at 7AM tomorrow for commentary leading up to Cassini’s final moments a little before 8AM.