NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Ends Its Historic Exploration of Saturn

Saturn’s active, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus sinks behind the giant planet in a farewell portrait from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — 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.”

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How to Watch Cassini’s Plunge into 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.

Live mission commentary and video from JPL Mission Control will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website from 7 to 8:30 a.m. EDT (4 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. PDT) on Sept. 15. A post-mission news briefing from JPL is currently scheduled for 9:30 a.m. EDT (6:30 a.m. PDT), also on NASA TV.

A new NASA e-book, The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini, showcasing compelling images and key science discoveries from the mission, is available for free download in multiple formats at:

https://www.nasa.gov/ebooks

An online toolkit of information and resources about Cassini’s Grand Finale and final plunge into Saturn is available at:

https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/grandfinale

Follow the Cassini spacecraft’s plunge on social media using #GrandFinale, or visit:

https://twitter.com/CassiniSaturn

https://www.facebook.com/NASACassini

Cassini Ends 13-Year Mission at Saturn on Friday Morning

Milestones in Cassini’s final dive toward Saturn. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — 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.

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Voyagers 1 & 2 Turn 40 Years Old

This montage of images of the planets visited by Voyager 2 was prepared from an assemblage of images taken by the 2 Voyager spacecraft. (Credits: NASA/JPL)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Few missions can match the achievements of NASA’s groundbreaking Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft during their 40 years of exploration. Here’s a short list of their major accomplishments to date.
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Video: NASA Accomplishments at Mid-Year

Video Caption: 2017 is shaping up to be another year of unprecedented exploration, amazing discoveries, technological advances and progress in development of future missions – and we’re just six months into the year. Here are some of our top stories of 2017, so far – Mid-Year at NASA!

NASA Receives 12 Proposals for Solar System Exploration Missions


WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has received and is reviewing 12 proposals for future unmanned solar system exploration. The proposed missions of discovery – submitted under NASA’s New Frontiers program – will undergo scientific and technical review over the next seven months. The goal is to select a mission for flight in about two years, with launch in the mid-2020s.

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NASA Finds Ingredients for Life at Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

Video Caption: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft discovered hydrogen in the plume of gas and icy particles spraying from Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The discovery means the small, icy moon — which has a global ocean under its surface — has a source of chemical energy that could be useful for microbes, if any exist there. The finding also provides further evidence that warm, mineral-laden water is pouring into the ocean from vents in the seafloor. On Earth, such hydrothermal vents support thriving communities of life in complete isolation from sunlight. Enceladus now appears likely to have all three of the ingredients scientists think life needs: liquid water, a source of energy (like sunlight or chemical energy), and the right chemical ingredients (like carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen).

Cassini is not able to detect life, and has found no evidence that Enceladus is inhabited. But if life is there, that means life is probably common throughout the cosmos; if life has not evolved there, it would suggest life is probably more complicated or unlikely than we have thought. Either way the implications are profound. Future missions to this icy moon may shed light on its habitability.

White smoker footage courtesy of: NOAA-OER / C.German (WHOI)

The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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Oh the Places You Will Go….

Interplanetary Transport System at Jupiter. (Credit: SpaceX)
Interplanetary Transport System at Jupiter. (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk wants to take SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport System well beyond Mars, which will keep animators employed until some distant time when he can actually do so.

Int3erplanetary Transport System at Saturn. (Credit: SpaceX)
Interplanetary Transport System at Saturn. (Credit: SpaceX)
Interplanetary Transport System at Europa. (Credit: SpaceX)
Interplanetary Transport System at Europa. (Credit: SpaceX)
Interplanetary Transport System at Enceladus. (Credit: SpaceX)
Interplanetary Transport System at Enceladus. (Credit: SpaceX)

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NASA Year in Review

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In 2015, NASA explored the expanse of our solar system and beyond, and the complex processes of our home planet, while also advancing the technologies for our journey to Mars, and new aviation systems as the agency reached new milestones aboard the International Space Station.

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Apollo, Ansari and the Hobbling Effects of Giant Leaps

spaceshipone_first_spaceflight
The author films as WhiteKnight taxis with SpaceShipOne on June 21, 2004. (Credit: John Criswick)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

On Oct. 4, the world marked the anniversaries of two very different space milestones. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik. And in 2004, SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize by becoming the first privately-built vehicle to fly to space twice within two weeks.

While Sputnik quickly led to Sputnik 2 and 3, the Ansari X Prize has been followed by a decade of frustration. SpaceShipOne never flew again, nor has anyone replicated its accomplishments since. The dream of a vibrant new industry that would routinely fly thousands of tourists into space has remained just out of reach.

So, why did Sputnik quickly help spark a revolution that would transform life on Earth, while the Ansari X Prize led to 10 years of extravagant promises and desultory results? And what does this tell us about the role of prizes in moving technology forward?

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Keck Proposes Deep Space CubeSat Missions

CHAMPAGNE Rings Explorer (Credit: Keck Institute for Space Studies)
CHAMPAGNE Rings Explorer (Credit: Keck Institute for Space Studies)

Last month, the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) at the California Institute of Technology released a report titled, “Small Satellites: A Revolution in Space Science,” which examines the sorts of missions types of missions that could be with rapidly evolving small satellites. The potential missions described in the report cover planetary science (moons, asteroids, etc.), astrophysics and heliophysics.

The planetary science missions include the use of mother ships that would deploy CubeSats and impactors to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa, tens of thousands of ChipSats to characterize Saturn’s rings, landing vehicles to explore asteroids, and small spacecraft that would map the moon’s interior and search for volatiles and organics.

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