NASA’s Dawn asteroid mission ends as fuel runs out

05 November, 2018, 22:43 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • NASA Spacecraft Creeps Closer to Asteroid Bennu

Dawn missed scheduled communications sessions with NASA's Deep Space Network on October 31 and November 1.

NASA says the Dawn flight team checked through a number of possible causes for the lack of contact but the mission's managers realized that the spacecraft simply ran out of its hydrazine fuel.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA's Directorate of Scientific Missions, in Washington, praised Dawn's "science life" and "incredible technical achievements".

Dawn can no longer keep its antennae trained on Earth to communicate with mission control or turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge, according to the USA space agency.

Because of the life-on-Ceres question, NASA made a decision to keep Dawn spinning in orbit rather than sending the probe down to crash onto the dwarf planet's pockmarked surface.

In 2011, it arrived at Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt that is nearly twice the size of California.


"The demands we put on Dawn were tremendous, but it met the challenge every time".

"The fact that my car's license plate frame proclaims, 'My other vehicle is in the main asteroid belt, ' shows how much pride I take in Dawn", said mission director Marc Rayman from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This artist's concept summarizes our understanding of how the inside of Ceres could be structured, based on the data returned by the NASA's Dawn mission. Dawn is the first spacecraft to orbit two extra-terrestrial bodies, the first spacecraft to visit either Vesta or Ceres, and the first to visit a dwarf planet, arriving at Ceres in March 2015, a few months before New Horizons flew by Pluto in July 2015.

According to NASA, the data Dawn beamed back to Earth was helpful in a number of ways, most significantly helping us understand the importance of location in the way the solar system formed. Its prolonged silence prompted NASA to declare it dead Thursday, two days after delivering eulogies to the planet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope. As the first spaceship to visit a dwarf planet, Dawn has also proved vital in revealing that these dinky worlds have the potential to support oceans.

The Dawn orbiter has been flying around the dwarf planet Ceres for some time now. JPL is responsible for overall Dawn mission science.

Dawn will remain in orbit around Ceres for at least the next 20 years, although the engineers putting it into this orbit are confident that it could last 50 years. "Ceres and Vesta are important to the study of distant planetary systems, too, as they provide a glimpse of the conditions that may exist around young stars", Raymond said.

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