PASADENA, Calif. – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft died just how it resided – as a well-oiled, data-gathering machine.

Cassini exceeded its handlers’ targets during its scripted loss of life dive into Saturn’s atmosphere Fri (Sept. 15), collecting high-quality data for 30 seconds longer than predicted, objective team members said.

“It went perfectly,” Cassini spacecraft operations manager Julie Webster said at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) throughout an information conference following the crash. [In Photos: Cassini’s Last Views of Saturn at Mission’s End]

The extended version

Cassini found its way to orbit around Saturn in 2004, spent another 13 years learning the ringed-planet system then. This work was productive highly. For instance, Cassini discovered that two Saturn moons – the huge Titan and the tiny, icy Enceladus – may manage to support life.

However the probe was running out of fuel, therefore the mission had to come quickly to a final end. To make sure that Cassini never crashed into Titan or Enceladus (which could have risked contaminating one of the worlds with Globe microbes), mission planners steered the probe to a fiery demise in Saturn’s atmosphere.

Today was your day and. Hours before Cassini’s plunge, the school-bus-sized probe lined itself up, turning its nasal area toward Saturn and its own antenna toward Earth.

That’s a simple angle to carry in the vacuum of space, but once Cassini strike Saturn’s atmosphere – at about 77,000 mph (123,000 km/h) – things got turbulent.

Tiny thrusters needed to fight to keep carefully the spacecraft in-line. Eventually, Cassini started to tumble, breaking its communication with Globe.

Preliminary models had suggested that Cassini’s final sign would be received by JPL mission control at 5:08 a.m. PDT (8:08 a.m. EDT, 1208 GMT), Cassini program supervisor Earl Maize said.

In Cassini’s last days, that estimation was enhanced to 4:55:16 a.m. PDT (7:55:16 a.m. EDT, 1155:16 GMT). That shape would indicate about 1 minute’s worth of data collection from within Saturn’s atmosphere.

“That’s our tale, and we’re sticking with it,” Maize, who, like Webster, is situated at JPL, said throughout a news conference Wednesday (Sept. 13).

Because Saturn and Globe are separated by vast sums of miles, it took one hour and 23 minutes for the spacecraft’s final communications to visit home to objective control.

From the right time the researchers and engineers received the indication this morning, the spacecraft experienced burnt to ash way back when.

Cassini associates watched the monitors eagerly for the spacecraft’s last pulse today. The projected deadline – 4:55:16 a.m. PDT – proceeded to go and came, and Cassini data continuing to stream in.

“We got almost 30 mere seconds much longer than we predicted,” Webster said during Friday’s information conference.

Keeping it cool

Section of Webster’s responsibilities included taking Cassini’s temperature, that was measured every 64 secs. While exterior temperature variants during today’s plunge weren’t likely to cause any problems, Webster said the primary area of the digital bays had a need to remain stable.

“That’s been running room temperature from Venus to Saturn,” she said, citing temperatures between 66 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (19 to 35 levels Celsius). (Cassini’s seven-year trip to Saturn included two speed-boosting flybys of Venus.) “It had been a remarkably well-designed mission to visit Saturn,” Webster said.

Two times ago, Webster predicted to that temps would remain steady. “I don’t believe we’ll visit a high since it may happen so fast,” she said.

True to her forecast, Cassini’s inner structure didn’t register a temperature spike.

“To the last end, the complete electronics setup ran at room temperatures,” Webster said. “That’s an incredible accomplishment, which speaks to all or any the average person engineers that built the spacecraft to last.”

And that spacecraft performed pretty much over the course of its long and storied mission perfectly, she added.

“The spacecraft did everything we asked it to do – everything – to the end,” Webster said. “That’s all you have to for any human, aside from an automatic robot.”


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