Twenty years after being launched into space, the Cassini spacecraft will no longer emit signals, but only 83 minutes after the dive on the planet will Earth receive the latest data collected. “It will be like an echo”, said Earl Maize, head of the Cassini project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
This was the end of a mission that in the last 13 years revealed important information about Saturn, its Moons and its rings. Until then, no spaceship had ever been so close to the planet.
This is possible on any mission if certain conditions are assured. On the one hand, the fuel that is needed for the probe reprogram trajectories.
The fuel is counted towards the kilos for an initial trajectory, which is planned for a certain type of studies. If there is anything left, it is possible to increase the scientific program. But if the probe is left in the orbit and continue to do important work, this aspect is not necessary.
Another aspect to take into account, is the energy consumption, batteries associated with solar collectors, are planned for a certain lifetime. If they remain active, it is possible to keep the instruments running longer by collecting data.
It was decided that Saturn would be the planet where it was going to crash, as it was the same with the Huygens probe, which was aboard the Cassini and entered the Titan. We are talking about very dense atmospheres. When photographing the planets, only the light coming from the upper part of the atmosphere is detected. The trick is to get the probe to enter the planet and, as it goes down, to send information. At least the initial part of the entrance into the atmosphere gives much more data than those that are possible to get from outside. It is better to “lose” the probe than simply let the instruments go out.
This will be one of NASA’s most successful projects. It is at least one of the major projects. The mission has been extended twice, and will reach 20 years. The machine worked so well, that all the instruments worked well beyond the initial project of the four years.
On the other hand, the information collected with Cassini was unique, because the probes that had passed close by were only Voyager 1 and 2 with passing flights. Titan’s scientific analysis was positive, and it left the scientific community clapping because nothing like it had been done except for our moon.
However, there have been some projects that happened in space that are worthy of some merit, since they managed to score and do things never before achieved. For example, Rosetta’s. The truth is that technology does not stop and in 20 years all this will be history.