How to Slingshot a Spacecraft Between Saturn's Rings and Crash It


The Cassini spacecraft takes it final lap.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting around Saturn and its moons, collecting data for nearly 13 years. The time has come for Cassini to wrap up its mission, as it will soon run out of fuel. NASA scientists are concerned that if left unchecked the spacecraft will crash into one of Saturn's moons, contaminating its atmosphere. 

Instead of letting Cassini fly wild, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has tapped a team of engineers, known as astrodynamicists, to design a flight path for Cassini's final few months.

The engineers are sending the craft on a series of 22 orbits around Saturn, diving through the gap between the planet and its rings.

This final flight path will enable NASA scientists to learn even more about the planet's interior structure and the rings' composition.

"We hope to accomplish a lot of incredible science, things that we have never been able to do before with the Cassini Mission," said Morgan Cable, a Cassini research scientist at NASA JPL.

Ultimately, Cassini will make its grand finale by crashing into Saturn in September.

To learn more about this feat of engineering, check out the video below from NASA: