Made in Sheffield - and smashing into Saturn at 76,000mph

In this Oct. 31, 1996 photo made available by NASA, the newly assembled Cassini Saturn probe undergoes vibration and thermal testing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory facilities in Pasadena, Calif. It was subjected to weeks of "shake and bake" tests that imitate the forces and extreme temperatures the spacecraft would experience during launch and spaceflight. (NASA via AP)
In this Oct. 31, 1996 photo made available by NASA, the newly assembled Cassini Saturn probe undergoes vibration and thermal testing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory facilities in Pasadena, Calif. It was subjected to weeks of "shake and bake" tests that imitate the forces and extreme temperatures the spacecraft would experience during launch and spaceflight. (NASA via AP)

It’s a tiny piece of outdated technology.

But after a noble 20-year, billion miles trip through space, the historic ‘Made in Sheffield’ programme will burst into a fireball as it zips through Saturn’s atmosphere, some time round about now.

The Cassini probe will destroy itself in the next hour or two as it ends its historic mission to study the planet and its moons.

Much of the ground breaking data sent back to Earth came courtesy of the genius of two Sheffield University boffins.

Dr Hugo Alleyne and Dr Les Woolliscroft provided data compression software for the Radio and Plasma Wave Science experiment.

This studied plasma waves and radio emissions in the Saturn system and helped create a new understanding of how it all works.

This Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 image taken using the CL1 and RED filters and made available Thursday by NASA shows Saturn's moon Titan, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn is closing in on its fiery finish, following a remarkable journey of 20 years. Cassini is on course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)

This Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 image taken using the CL1 and RED filters and made available Thursday by NASA shows Saturn's moon Titan, as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn is closing in on its fiery finish, following a remarkable journey of 20 years. Cassini is on course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)

But today the whole programme comes crashing to an end, literally.

With a predicted entry speed of 76,000mph, the Cassini spacecraft will be torn to pieces in a plan carefully devised by scientists.

Below is the sequence of events leading to Cassini’s suicidal dive on to Saturn. All times (BST) are approximate.

September 11, 20:00: A fly-by round Saturn’s largest moon Titan - nicknamed “the goodbye kiss” by scientists - nudges Cassini on to a one-way trip back to the planet.

Cassini is on course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)

Cassini is on course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporize like a meteor Friday morning. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute via AP)

September 14, 20:58: Last images taken as Cassini heads towards Saturn.

September 14, 21:58: Cassini turns its antenna to Earth. Final images and other recorded data are transmitted.

September 15, 08:14: Cassini begins a five-minute roll to align its atmosphere sampling instrument and begins near real-time transmission of data.

September 15, 11:30: Atmospheric entry begins 1,190 miles (1,920 km) above Saturn’s cloud tops. Attitude thrusters firing at 10% capacity to keep space craft stable.

September 15, 11:32: Around 930 miles above the cloud tops. With its attitude thrusters at 100% capacity, Cassini begins to lose stability and tumble due to atmospheric drag. The narrow beam high gain antenna swerves away from Earth, and all contact with the space craft is lost. Cassini’s on-board computer runs through automatic fault protection procedures in a last-ditch attempt to keep the space craft stable and safe.

Because of the time it takes for radio waves to travel from Saturn, signal loss is confirmed by scientists on Earth at 12.55.

Within a matter of seconds Cassini begins to break up. Temperature soars, turning the probe into a fragmenting fireball by the time it reaches cloud top height. As the probe plunges deep into Saturn’s atmosphere, intense heat and pressure will cause all its materials to melt and become consumed into the planet’s interior.