As is the case with most exploratory spaceflight missions, Cassini, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, has entered the point in its voyage where it must pass Senior Review to continue to receive funding.
All current extended missions, including Cassini, are fully funded through the end of FY14. The worrisome issue, however, is that in FY15, a scheduled budget cut will coincide with Curiosity also needing funding to begin its extended missions on Mars.
“We have two very expensive flagship missions, Cassini and Curiosity,” said NASA’s planetary science director Jim Green. “So, this particular competition we’ll have to do very carefully.”+The Planetary Society recently outlined the proposed extended mission of Cassini.http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/van-kane/20131112_Cassini_extended_mission.htmlUp until November 2016, Cassini will have stayed well away from Saturn's rings (except during orbit insertion in 2004) because the risk of catastrophic collision with an ice particle or boulder would be too high. With the fuel almost exhausted, though, Cassini's managers want to bring it in close to the rings and Saturn itself. Twenty orbits would carry the spacecraft just outside the rings for close up observations of their structure and mass. (The latter measurements, for example, would help scientists determine how old the rings are.)Following these orbits, the spacecraft would slip into the gap between the inner most ring and the top of Saturn's atmosphere. From these 22 close-in orbits, the Cassini mission would essentially replicate the measurements that will be made at the same time by the Juno mission to Jupiter: detailed measurements of the interior of Saturn and of its atmosphere. As a bonus, scientists can make more detailed measurements of the rings. And for all of us who vicariously explore the solar system through these missions, think of how beautiful the images would be looking out at the rings and Saturn from just above the clouds.At the end of the mission, its fuel gone, Cassini would enter and burn up in Saturn's atmosphere, an end that would prevent it from accidentally impacting and contaminating Enceladus or Titan with micro-organisms from Earth.
In a relatively short time, Cassini has been greatly beneficial towards our understanding of Saturn, its moons, and its magnificent ring system. Express your desire to see Cassini complete the final legs of its journey to study the atmosphere of Saturn with a Penny4NASA.http://www.penny4nasa.org/take-action #NASA #Penny4NASA #Cassini #Saturn