Illustration showing Cassini dropping down toward Saturn and its rings for a crossing between the planet and the D ring.

This artist's rendering shows NASA's Cassini spacecraft above Saturn's northern hemisphere, heading toward its first dive between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Larger View

Cassini’s First Grand Finale Dive: Milestones

Updated April 27, 2017 at 12:20 a.m. PDT

Story: NASA Spacecraft Dives Between Saturn and Its Rings

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is back in contact with Earth after its successful first-ever dive through the narrow gap between the planet Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017. The spacecraft is in the process of beaming back science and engineering data collected during its passage, via NASA's Deep Space Network Goldstone Complex in California's Mojave Desert. The DSN acquired Cassini's signal at 11:56 p.m. PDT on April 26, 2017 (2:56 a.m. EDT on April 27) and data began flowing at 12:01 a.m. PDT (3:01 a.m. EDT) on April 27. More ​›

Updated April 26, 2017 at midnight PDT

Ground controllers have detected the carrier signal from Cassini. They are now waiting for NASA's Deep Space Network to lock on to the signal, after which engineering data related to the state of the spacecraft are expected to begin flowing in.

Updated April 26, 2017 at 6 p.m. PDT

Cassini mission engineers are awaiting a signal from the spacecraft via NASA’s Deep Space Network, which is expected no earlier than around midnight PDT on April 26, 2017 (3 a.m. EDT on April 27, 2017).

Updated April 26, 2017 at 2 a.m. PDT

Cassini has made its first dive between the rings and Saturn. It is not in contact with Earth at this time and is expected to regain contact via NASA’s Deep Space Network no earlier than around midnight PDT on April 26, 2017 (3 a.m. EDT on April 27, 2017).


Overview

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is set to make its first dive through the narrow gap between Saturn and its rings on April 26, 2017. Because that gap is a region no spacecraft has ever explored, Cassini will use its dish-shaped high-gain antenna (13 feet or 4 meters across) as a protective shield while passing through the ring plane. No particles larger than smoke particles are expected, but the precautionary measure is being taken on the first dive. The Cassini team will use data collected by one of the spacecraft’s science instruments (the Radio and Plasma Wave Subsystem, or RPWS) to ascertain the size and density of ring particles in the gap in advance of future dives. As a result of its antenna-forward orientation, the spacecraft will be out of contact with Earth during the dive.

Below is a list of milestones expected to occur during the event, if all goes as planned:

  • 5 p.m. PDT (8 p.m. EDT) on April 25: Cassini is approaching Saturn over the planet’s northern hemisphere in advance of its first of 22 planned dives through the gap between the planet and its rings.
  • 1:34 a.m. PDT (4:34 a.m. EDT) on April 26: As it passes from north to south over Saturn, Cassini begins a 14-minute turn to point its high-gain antenna into the direction of oncoming ring particles. In this orientation, the antenna acts as a protective shield for Cassini’s instruments and engineering systems.
  • 2 a.m. PDT (5 a.m. EDT) on April 26: Cassini crosses the ring plane during its dive between the rings and Saturn. The spacecraft’s science instruments are collecting data, but Cassini is not in contact with Earth at this time.
  • No earlier than around midnight PDT on April 26 (3 a.m. EDT on April 27): Earth has its first opportunity to regain contact with Cassini as the giant, 230-foot (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, listens for the spacecraft’s radio signal.
  • Likely no earlier than 12:30 a.m. PDT (3:30 a.m. EDT) on April 27: Images are scheduled to become available from the spacecraft.

As Cassini engineers monitor the status of the spacecraft, updates to these milestones will be added at:

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/grandfinale-milestones

Updates will also be posted at:

https://www.twitter.com/CassiniSaturn

https://www.twitter.com/NASAJPL

More information about Cassini is at:

http://www.nasa.gov/cassini

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.


News media contact:

Preston Dyches
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-394-7013
preston.dyches@jpl.nasa.gov

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