20:21 GMT13 May 2021
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    Cassini spacecraft is set to start its farewell mission at the end of November. Back in 1997 NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and its attached Huygens probe launched from Cape Canaveral to arrive in the Saturn system seven years later.

    The weary 2.2-billion mile journey proved to be worth the wait, given the enormous amount of scientific data the spacecraft transmitted to Earth in more than 12 years of studying the distant planet.

    On the basis of material collected in its flybys of Saturn's icy moons, scientists on the Cassini team released over 3,000 reports on various valuable discoveries. They were able to map lake-covered Titan, and since Cassini discovered continually-erupting fountains of icy material on Enceladus in 2005, the Saturn moon has become one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for present-day habitable environments.

    The conclusion of the historic space voyage is planned for September 2017, but first the spacecraft will complete a dangerous two-phase endgame.

    On the end of November 2016 Cassini will head to where it has never gone before. This time it will fly high above Saturn and dive down just outside the ring furthest from the planet, the narrow and bright F ring.

    The spacecraft will approach to within 7.800 kilometers of the center of the F ring. The maneuver will let Cassini take new unique high-resolution images of Saturn's atmosphere and collect icy particles from its rings, NASA says. The data will help planetary scientists learn how planets form and evolve.

    During the Grand Finale mission in April 2017 Cassini will pass through the close gap between Saturn and the rings (only about 2,400 kilometers wide). This is the final and most dangerous phase because of the high risk of a collision with Saturn's rings' particles. The team was so excited about it they even asked the public to help pick a name for the mission. "Close shave", "The plunge" and "Swan song orbits" were among the suggestions.

    "It's like getting a whole new mission," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "The scientific value of the F ring and Grand Finale orbits is so compelling that you could imagine a whole mission to Saturn designed around what we're about to do."

    After completing 22 inner ring orbits Cassini will meet its end on September 15, 2017 by diving into Saturn.


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