An illustration of the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft in orbit around Saturn. Cassini has been studying the sixth planet from the sun and its many moons since arriving in Saturn’s neighborhood in 2004. The little space lab is getting ready for the final phase of its mission, before plummeting directly into the planet in September in a kamikaze-style death spiral.
Photo: De Agostini Picture Library/De Agostini/Getty Images
Photo: De Agostini Picture Library/De Agostini/Getty Images

Cassini spacecraft readying for kamikaze-style death dive into Saturn

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is preparing for the final phase of a 20-year, 2.2-billion-mile mission that has amazed scientists with data and images of the planet Saturn, its rings and its moons.

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The Grand Finale, as NASA is calling it, begins on April 22 when Cassini will make a final flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan, which will “reshape the Cassini spacecraft’s orbit so that it begins its final series of 22 weekly dives through the unexplored gap between the planet and its rings,” NASA said in a news release this week.

This was a one-way trip for Cassini, which launched in 1997, after its seven-year journey to reach Saturn, but even at the end of its mission, the spacecraft will continue beaming back data and images on the unexplored area between Saturn’s innermost rings as it moves closer to the giant planet.

Cassini will make 22 orbits that swoop between the rings and the planet over the four and a half months, NASA said

The legendary spacecraft’s mission will officially end with a kamikaze death dive into the planet itself on Sept. 15.

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