The journey

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has been hurtling through space for the past 20 years. The sophisticated robotic spacecraft is orbiting Saturn and studying the ringed planet in detail, but its journey has all been leading up to this moment – exploring the unknowns of the sixth planet from the Sun. On Friday 15 September 2017, Cassini will make its final dive into Saturn’s atmosphere – its Grand Finale – and the CSIRO-managed Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex will be tracking its last moments.

Cassini's mission

The Cassini mission to Saturn is one of the most ambitious efforts in planetary space exploration ever mounted.

The spacecraft has begun the daring set of orbits called the Grand Finale. As Cassini plunges past Saturn, it will collect rich and valuable information including measuring Saturn’s gravitational and magnetic fields, determining ring mass and sampling the atmosphere and ionosphere.

Find out more about NASA's Cassini mission.

Cassini's journey

Glen describes Australia’s role in Cassini’s Grand Finale

[Image appears of Glen standing in front of a satellite dish and talking to the camera and text appears: Glen Nagle, Outreach Lead, CDSCC]

Glen Nagle: The CSIRO manages the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex which is a part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.  We’re one of only three stations around the world providing 24-hour coverage for over 30 missions across the Solar System.

Our tracking station has been with Cassini since she opened her eyes to the Universe and now we’re going to be with her until her last breath of data as it plunges into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending its life as a shooting star.

Normally Cassini stores and forwards the science it collects but for this final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere it’s sending back its information in real time to our giant dishes here in Canberra. On the 15th September, shortly before 10 pm Australian Eastern Standard time, Cassini travelling at over 111,000 km per hour will send home her final signals ending what has been a 20-year odyssey of exploration.

[Image continues of Glen Nagle talking to the camera and text appears on the left: Cassini’s Grand Finale, Final signal @ 9:54 pm AEST, Friday 15 September, csiro.au/cassini, nasa.gov/ntv, #CassiniAus, #GrandFinale]

Everyone can join us for this historic moment in space exploration by either watching the live stream on NASA TV or via social media using the hashtags CassiniAus, A-U-S or Grand Finale.

[Music plays and CSIRO logo and text appears: Australia’s innovation catalyst]

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Australia's role in Cassini's mission

The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC), located just outside Canberra, is one of three Deep Space Network stations around the world providing continuous, two-way radio contact with spacecraft exploring our solar system and beyond. The CDSCC is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network which provides continuous radio contact with spacecraft including Cassini.

The complex, managed and operated by CSIRO, consists of one 70-metre, two 34-metre and one 26-metre radio telescope antennas with two-way communication capacity.

The massive antenna dishes of the CDSCC will be providing the final radio contact with Cassini as it ends this epic voyage of exploration.

Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex

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Deep Space Station 35

Tracking Cassini to the end - Deep Space Station 35

Tracking Cassini to the end - Deep Space Station 35

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Deep Space Station 43

Tracking Cassini to the end - Deep Space Station 43

Tracking Cassini to the end - Deep Space Station 43

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Saturn inspires Lisa to become an astronomer

[Image appears of Lisa Harvey-Smith talking to the camera and text appears: Lisa Harvey-Smith, CSIRO Astronomer]

Lisa Harvey-Smith: When I was about 13 I joined this amateur astronomy group. So, it was like a load of amateur astronomers. They got together and one of them built a telescope in his backyard. He built this massive dome and everything. So, we went down there and one night I got to see my first glimpse through a telescope and the sky was really, really clear. It was a warm night. So, what I saw through there was dancing in the night a little bit but it was the planet Saturn and I can never really forget the first time I saw Saturn because it was just so exquisite. Just like you saw in the books or on TV but it was just kind of hanging there in the sky and it looked so delicate. Its little ring system looked like paper thin and I’ll never quite forget that moment.

[Image continues to show Lisa Harvey-Smith talking to the camera]

I think it’s amazing for young people to be able to follow events like the end of Cassini on television, on the live stream and on social media because when I was young I had similar events like a comet when I was 14 hit the surface of Jupiter and it was incredible. It was all over the news and people were watching and people could look through telescopes themselves and share the event. So, it’s kind of a global feeling that this is an event everyone can enjoy and I think it’ll inspire kids very much.

[Text appears on the left of Lisa Harvey-Smith: Cassini’s Grand Finale, Final signal @ 9:54 pm AEST, Friday 15 September, csiro.au/cassini, nasa.gov/ntv, #CassiniAus, #GrandFinale]

So, on 15th September I’ll definitely be looking at the Cassini’s final countdown as it goes into the atmosphere and goes to its watery grave. It’s going to be a sad moment, I think. It’s been travelling through the Solar System for 20 years or so. I’ll be following on social media, watching NASA TV and chatting on social media too. So, I think it’s going to be a really important event and I hope people will join in.

[Music plays and CSIRO logo and text appears: Australia’s innovation catalyst]

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How you can get involved

Top tips for viewing Saturn

While you won’t be able to see Cassini crashing into Saturn from back here on Earth, if you head outside and look skyward you can still get a pretty great view of Saturn if you follow these tips.

Fact sheet: Tips for viewing Saturn

Follow #CassiniAus on social media

Follow what's happening at CDSCC and in Australia during this momentous event.

#CassiniAus

Read our fast fact sheet

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is nearing the end of its historic mission to explore Saturn and its environs. The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, managed for NASA by CSIRO, will receive Cassini’s final signals before it plunges into Saturn’s atmosphere.

Fact sheet: Cassini’s ‘Grand Finale’

Watch the whole thing live

Watch all of the action live streamed from NASA TV, and be sure to keep an eye out as they may be crossing live to the control room at CDSCC during the final moments of the mission.

NASA TV

NASA TV

Please note: because this is a live feed video transcripts and closed captions may not be available.

Media resources

Resources for media including details of our multimedia package, media release and key contacts. Check out our media resource page.

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Find out more

For more detailed information Cassini’s mission and the role of CDSCC download our fact sheet [PDF · 1mb].