What is next after Cassini?

Cassini was in space for 13 years. During this period, the spacecraft gave us captivating images about Saturn, its moons and its rings. While the images and data acquired helped us answer some mysteries that lay ahead of us, the Cassini mission also raised a number of questions that we can’t answer for now. With Cassini gone, data from the mystery planet has died, and the next time a spacecraft will return in space is quite unknown. The project scientist for the mission Linda Spilker said in a press conference that Saturn is now a distant world until we go back. To get more details about the rings or Titan, she said that we would have to wait. At the moment, NASA has announced that it doesn’t have a plan to go to Saturn. However, this is likely to change going by the announcement that was made by NASA relating to an annual competition called New Frontiers. During the announcement, NASA announced that they would be considering competition entries that would go to Saturn or its moons. Specifically, they announced that they were interested in entries that would explore the atmosphere of Saturn, go to Enceladus or Titan. This competition allows missions from engineers as well as scientists. In some cases, the project has been known to be ambitious going by the cost of $1 billion.

For instance, New Frontiers has given rise to projects like Juno which is currently orbiting Jupiter and Osiris-Rex which is travelling to asteroid Bennu at the moment. NASA also said that they would announce the project winner before the end of the year. The launch is expected to take place by summer 2015. NASA also said that five proposals would focus on Enceladus, Titan, and Saturn. A spacecraft that looks most suitable for Titan is a Dragonfly. The Dragonfly contains propellers resembling those of a helicopter. It would be the most suitable spacecraft to look for life on the planet. This is according to Peter Bedini who is a program manager at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. He said the decision is straightforward and referred to it as an obituary. Proponents of this idea say that it is suitable because the air around Titan is thicker compared to the one of planet earth. A rover is not suitable because of the liquid methane found in seas, lakes, and rivers found on the moon. The case is also made stronger by the popularity of flying drones.