London- US space agency NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will end its groundbreaking 13-year mission to Saturn on Friday with a meteor-like plunge into the ringed planet’s atmosphere, transmitting data until the final fiery moment.
Cassini, the first spacecraft to orbit Saturn, is expected to lose contact with Earth at 7:55 a.m. EDT (1155 GMT) shortly after it enters the gas giant’s crushing atmosphere at about 70,000 miles per hour (113,000 km per hour), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said, according to Reuters.
“Our spacecraft has entered Saturn’s atmosphere, and we have received its final transmission,” NASA tweeted.
The end of Cassini’s voyage, which began with its launch in 1997 and a seven-year journey to Saturn, was met with applause, hugs and tears from NASA officials.
Cassini’s final transmissions are expected to include unprecedented data from the atmosphere’s upper fringe about 1,190 miles (1,915 km) above Saturn’s cloud tops. The data will take 86 minutes to reach NASA antennas in Canberra, Australia.
Cassini’s final dive will end a mission that gave scientists a ringside seat to the sixth planet from the Sun.
The craft’s discoveries included seasonal changes on Saturn, a hexagon-shaped pattern on the north pole and the moon Titan’s resemblance to a primordial Earth.
Cassini also found a global ocean on the moon Enceladus, with ice plumes spouting from its surface. Enceladus has become a promising lead in the search for places where life could exist outside Earth.
The spacecraft has produced 450,000 images and 635 gigabytes of data since it began probing Saturn and its 62 known moons in July 2004.
Cassini, a cooperative project between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, was launched into space in October 1997 from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Cassini program manager Earl Maize said it was “a superb machine in an amazing place.”
“To the very end, the spacecraft did everything we asked,” he added, according to DPA.
“We believe we got every last second of data.”