today I will write about Cassini-Huygens spacecraft because lately there has been so much hype about its final destination (Saturn’s atmosphere).
Cassini was launched in 1997. Its flight towards Saturn itself was very interesting. The spacecraft did a flyby around Venus, two times, then did flyby around Earth.. if you have been paying attention in elementary school you might notice that this is a bit weird since Venus is closer to the Sun and one might one to rather fly in exactly opposite direction. Well first of all that would not neccesarily be the reason since the planets are not in a row all the time but the reason why one does not go directly towards the destination is that it takes high velocity to escape Sun. In all those flybys Cassini got few extra kilometers per second so that it was able to get to Saturn without extra fuel.
The probe made a flyby of Jupiter though at that time Galileo was already orbiting him. In 2004 it reached Saturn and succesfully started to orbit him. Throughout whole mission it did a lot of work of course, for example found new moons of Saturn, discovered water on the moon Enceladus, taught us about the nature of rings and much more. What I found most interesting though is the landing of Huygens spacecraft which was a part of Cassini until it landed on Titan. It was first ever landing on surface in outer solar system (only one so far), and brace yourselves.. it took pictures:
On the left you can actually see the surface. The lander was not functioning very long time, it had battery for 180 minutes and most of the time was spent in atmosphere.
Now Cassini’s mission is comming to an end. This is because it does not have much energy to power its instruments and there is risk that we would lost it completely and then it could fall on Enceladus for example and contaminate it. For that reason Cassini is taking very dangerous dives close to Saturn and its rings to provide some more info and in the end, it will burn up in the atmosphere of the giant planet.
Every single time it is possible that it will be destroyed by some piece of stone. Because of that it uses its antenna as protection but still, it is moving very quickly, so far it dived once, we will see how it goes in the future.
Titan picture: By ESA/NASA/JPL/University of Arizona; processed by Andrey Pivovarov https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5685589
North pole picture: Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Sophia Nasr