Cassini is one of the most ambitious missions ever launched into space. Loaded with an array of powerful instruments and cameras, the spacecraft is capable of taking accurate measurements and detailed images in a variety of atmospheric conditions and light spectra.
The science instruments can be classified in a way that can be compared to the way human senses operate.
Your eyes and ears are “remote sensing” devices because you can receive information from remote objects without being in direct contact with them.
Your senses of touch and taste are “direct sensing” devices.
Your nose can be construed as either a remote or direct sensing device.
You can certainly smell the apple pie across the room without having your nose in direct contact with it, but the molecules carrying the scent do have to make direct contact with your sinuses.
Cassini’s instruments can be classified as remote and microwave remote sensing instruments, and fields and particles instruments – these are all designed to record significant data and take a variety of close-up measurements.
The remote sensing instruments on the Cassini Spacecraft can calculate measurements from a great distance. This set includes both optical and microwave sensing instruments including cameras, spectrometers, radar, and radio.
The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft is one of the largest, heaviest and most complex interplanetary spacecraft ever built. Of all interplanetary spacecraft, only the two Phobos spacecraft sent to Mars by the former Soviet Union were heavier.
The instruments onboard Cassini-Huygens gather data for 27 diverse science investigations, providing scientists with an enormous amount of information on the most beautiful planet in our Solar System and its moons.
Today’s Google Doodle has commemorated the start of the final few orbits of Saturn. During these orbits, Cassini will dive between Saturn and its innermost rings.
There are 22 such orbits scheduled, the first of which will take place on 26 April 2017. The size and density of the particles in the region between Saturn and the innermost rings will be studied during the first dive, to prepare the spacecraft for subsequent orbits.
Cassini will be using its dish-shaped antenna as a shield during the first dive, in case there are particles that are larger than expected. NASA scientists do not expect any matter larger than smoke particles but are being cautious.
On 15 September, Cassini will execute its final manoeuvre.
There is not sufficient fuel on the spacecraft to extend the mission further, and that means that NASA will no longer be able to control the spacecraft.
NASA is being careful and does not want to contaminate the moons of Saturn, in case they harbour life, with Enceladus being one of the most promising candidates. In a science abundant manoeuvre, Cassini will fly past Janus, Pan, Pandora, Epimetheus and finally enter the outer atmosphere of the gas giant.
Cassini will be transmitting information during the course of its final dive, until the very moment when the friction from the atmosphere burns up the dependable spacecraft and turns it into a shooting star.