Cassini Grand Finale: Orbiter Goes Out in a Blaze on Friday

Canberra's Deep Space Communication Complex will beam live footage of NASA's Cassini spacecraft

The irony is that, as Earl Maize, the program manager for NASA's flagship mission, put it: "Cassini's own discoveries were its demise". In particular, the spacecraft's ion and neutral mass spectrometer, which will be directly sampling the atmosphere's composition, will potentially offer insights into the giant planet's formation and evolution, according to NASA.

His team will also investigate the phenomenon of "ring rain", when water vapor and ice grains from the rings descend into the gas giant's atmosphere.

On several occasions in Cassini's 294 orbits around Saturn, the ringed gas giant eclipsed the sun giving the spacecraft the flawless opportunity to photograph the planet from a unique angle. "But Cassini will not go quietly". It send back some gorgeous snapshots along the way and, now that its extended mission is complete, it's time for the spacecraft to perform the ultimate sacrifice.

Launched in 1997, Cassini made the two billion mile journey to the second largest planet in the solar system, delivering a wealth of scientific data. The unmanned spacecraft that launched almost two decades ago has been sending groundbreaking data on Saturn and its moons since its arrival at the planet in 2004.

"Cassini is ending its 13-year tour of the Saturn system with an intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn's moons - in particular Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity - remain pristine for future exploration", NASA said in a statement.

The $US3.26 billion ($A4.06 billion) mission has given scientists vital information about two of Saturn's moons, Titan and Enceladus, as well as the planet itself and its icy rings.

The spacecraft made its 127th close brush with Titan, one of Saturn's moons, for the last time in April, before setting course for its last set of 22 orbits around the ringed planet before what is called the Cassini Grand Finale. This is another reason the mission scientists decided on Cassini's particular end-game.

No images will be taken during the final plunge into Saturn, as the data transmission rate required to send images is too high and would prevent other high-value science data from being returned.

The mission's precious final data shall be relayed to Earth while entering the Saturn's atmosphere.

NASA's Cassini probe is a day away from its good bye.

"Cassini-Huygens is an extraordinary mission of discovery that has revolutionized our understanding of the outer solar system", said Alexander Hayes, assistant professor of astronomy at Cornell University.

The Cassini-Huygens mission has witnessed countless breath-taking phenomena.

It also found seven new moons, six of which have been named, carried out detailed studies of Saturn's rings, and spotted raging hurricanes at both of Saturn's poles. When Cassini arrived, the northern hemisphere of Saturn was emerging from winter.

One of the most ambitious and successful space missions ever undertaken is to come to an end on Friday morning, with the Cassini space probe set to crash into Saturn.

He told Rachel Smalley Cassini has sent back awesome images of Saturn's rings and discovered water on one of it's moons. Images taken on October 28, 2016 with Cassini's wide angle camera using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this color view.

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