After hours of trepidation, we now know for sure that Cassini has survived its daring first dive on April 26 between Saturn and its rings. The spacecraft has got back in contact and it’s now beaming back all data collected during its passage. Cassini came within about 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometres) of Saturn’s cloud tops and within about 200 miles (300 kilometres) of the innermost visible edge of the rings.
“In the grandest tradition of exploration, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare. […]
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. 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.” (NASA Press Release, 27 April 2017.)
The mission was far from being without risk. The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere is about only 1,500 miles (2,000 kilometres) wide, and the small ring particles that are present in the area could have potentially have disabled the spacecraft. More is to come. This was only the first dive of a series of 22 planned, before ending with a plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on Sept. 15, 2017.
Here’s the presentation video of Gran Finale: