Cassini Spacecraft Makes Its Final Approach to Saturn

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is on final approach to Saturn,
following confirmation by mission navigators that it is on
course to dive into the planet’s atmosphere on Friday, Sept.
15.

Cassini is ending its 13-year tour of the Saturn system with an
intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn’s moons –
in particular Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of
hydrothermal activity – remain pristine for future exploration.
The spacecraft’s fateful dive is the final beat in the
mission’s Grand Finale, 22 weekly dives, which began in late
April, through the gap between Saturn and its rings. No
spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before.

The mission’s final calculations predict loss of contact with
the Cassini spacecraft will take place on Sept. 15 at 7:55 a.m.
EDT (4:55 a.m. PDT). Cassini will enter Saturn’s atmosphere
approximately one minute earlier, at an altitude of about 1,190
miles (1,915 kilometers) above the planet’s estimated cloud
tops (the altitude where the air pressure is 1-bar, equivalent
to sea level on Earth). During its dive into the atmosphere,
the spacecraft’s speed will be approximately 70,000 miles
(113,000 kilometers) per hour. The final plunge will take place
on the day side of Saturn, near local noon, with the spacecraft
entering the atmosphere around 10 degrees north latitude.