TechnologyWe're scientists, engineers & communicators for NASA's Cassini mission, which makes its #GrandFinale plunge into Saturn next week. AUA!
Sep 8th 2017 by NASAJPL • 18 Questions • 94 Points
Our short bio: After two decades in space, NASA's Cassini spacecraft is nearing the end of its remarkable journey of exploration. Having expended almost every bit of the rocket propellant it carried to Saturn, we will deliberately plunge Cassini into the planet on Sept. 15. Why? To ensure Saturn's moons will remain pristine for future exploration—in particular, the ice-covered, ocean-bearing Enceladus, but also Titan, with its intriguing pre-biotic chemistry. Only one week remains before the spacecraft's final chapter in the skies of Saturn. What would you like to know about the science and engineering still to come for Cassini? Ask us anything!
Update at 5:11 p.m. ET: We took your questions on Friday, Sept. 8 from 3 to 5 p.m. ET (noon-2 p.m. PT, 1900-2100 GMT). Time to log off and get back to the final week of the Cassini spacecraft. Thanks for joining us here today! We hope you'll be watching on Sept. 15 during the final plunge as we stream live from mission control: http://nasa.gov/live
- Molly Bittner, Cassini systems engineer
- Bonnie J. Buratti, Cassini scientist
- Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist
Jo Pitesky, Cassini science planning & sequencing
Bill Dunford, Cassini social media manager
Preston Dyches, Cassini media rep
Doug Isbell, NASA-JPL science communication specialist
Stephanie L. Smith, NASA-JPL social media supervisor
More info on Cassini's #GrandFinale: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/grand-finale/overview/GrandFinale trailer: https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/resources/7628/
I'm sure the science that came out of the Cassini mission has been great, but from a lay-perspective the photography has been absolutely stunning. I always thought that being the "mission photographer" (planning the camera activity) for a planetary probe would be probably the best job in the world.
What is the thought process for balancing scientific value vs purely aesthetic/outreach value in how the cameras are used? If there's a chance for a really spectacular shot, is the team willing to alter the orbit? That kind of thing.
What kind of stunning photography can we expect from the final approach?
We try and choose the most scientifically valuable images, but beauty counts too. Occasionally we just go for the spectacular photo op. To change an orbit, though, we need a compelling scientific reason. The final shot (the day before mission end), we will get spectacular images of the clouds of Saturn. --Bonnie
If you could do it over again with today's technology; what instrument(s) on the spacecraft would you add and what would you remove?
There's a kid's picture book called "More More More Said the Baby"--replace "baby" with "scientists" and you've pretty much got the general feeling.
What I would add is a heck of a lot more capability to the Deep Space Network, which is the only way in which we can get information from our distant spacecraft to us (and send them instructions). Cassini only "speaks" with the DSN about every 2-3 days, and sometimes it has to use lower data rates than we the flight team would like. I would love to be able to not worry about getting enough time on the big 70 meter antennas with their sweet sweet downlink capability - Jo
Is there anything you hope to learn from slamming Cassini into Saturn? Will it be able to broadcast any vital information before it burns up?
Cassini is doing a quick costume change from orbital mission to planetary probe. That means that the spacecraft will be sampling the upper part of Saturn's atmosphere, and blasting back that precious data almost as soon as it's recorded on board. That's all been carefully planned to maximize science return. - Jo
Will it go down near the poles or near the equator?
How deep into the atmosphere can it go before it can no longer transmit radio back?
Where will the cameras be pointed as it sinks?
The spacecraft is entering near the equator. Due to the speeds that Cassini is traveling at, we will only hear the spacecraft for a few minutes before signal loss. Cassini's fields and particles instruments will be sampling the atmosphere as it enters. The region sampled would be roughly equivalent to the altitudes where satellites, ISS, and the space shuttle flies. Due to the placement of Cassini's cameras relative to the fields and particle instruments, the cameras will be pointed into empty space with the exception of one very quick cut across the rings. -Scott
I think you've done a notable job on social media outreach, especially on Twitter (which is where I spend most of my own time).
What sort of insights have you gained over the past year, in terms of connecting with people who maybe weren't aware of the Cassini mission?
Thank you so much for all of your work! It's been amazing to watch, and I appreciate the fact that you've dedicated so much effort to engaging with us regular folks. Can't express enough gratitude.
So gratifying to hear. What really helps is that we have a treasure trove of gorgeous images that help tell the story. --Bill
When did you have doubts with Cassini, if ever? Can you guys recall that one moment you were like 'uh-oh" regarding this mission?
Saturn held many surprises, including the plume of Enceladus and how Earth-like Titan is in some ways. Here are some highlights: (https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/top-tens/science-highlights/) -- Bill