Cassini reconnects after first dive through Saturn’s rings

Only 21 more dives through the rings and the death plunge left for the spacecraft.
By | Published: April 27, 2017 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
This image from Cassini shows Saturn’s atmosphere closer than we’ve ever seen it before.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

After successfully surfing through Saturn’s rings on April 26, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is back in contact with Earth.

NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) found Cassini’s signal at 11:56 p.m. PDT April 26, and the craft started sending back data from the dive just five minutes later.

Researchers were confident Cassini would make it through the rings without issue, but still took extra care with the dive since it was the first time the area was ever explored. Cassini was about 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) from Saturn’s cloud tops where the air pressure is similar to Earth’s at sea level, and about 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the innermost edge of the rings.

“No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before. We could only rely on predictions, based on our experience with Saturn’s other rings, of what we thought this gap between the rings and Saturn would be like,” Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a press release. “I am delighted to report that Cassini shot through the gap just as we planned and has come out the other side in excellent shape.”

For extra care, Cassini used its dish-shaped antenna as a shield, which put it out of contact with Earth during the crossing, but it reconnected 20 hours later.

On May 2, Cassini is scheduled for its second of 22 dives through the rings before its death plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15.