In the spring of 2008, Cassini is slated for another chance to look at Enceladus, flying within some 220 miles (350 kilometers) of the satellite. The end of Cassini's "Prime Mission" is June 30, 2008, four years after arrival at Saturn. The opportunity exists for placing Cassini in "extended mission" mode-but that's only if financial resources allow.
Motivated by Cassini's findings to date, attention is now turning to future observational roles of the interplanetary probe. One leading candidate is a sharper focus on astrobiology, even a "diving catch" to inspect in detail the makeup of those Enceladus plumes.
"After what we've discovered with Cassini, if we don't get an extended mission, then there's no hope for anybody," said Carolyn Porco, the Cassini imaging team leader based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Cassini scientists should know around the middle of 2007 whether or not Cassini will be given official approval for an extended mission. Then, within six months to a year after that, they will learn if the money is available to proceed beyond the nominal end of the mission, in mid-2008.
"In the meantime, we are planning for such an extension ... thinking about what it is we really want and need to do," said Porco recently to SPACE.com. She added, "Certainly, one of the cardinal goals of extending Cassini's tour of the Saturnian environment would be further exploration of Enceladus."
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