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As NASA's Dawn spacecraft prepares to wrap up its groundbreaking 11-year mission, which has included two successful extended missions at Ceres, it will continue to explore—collecting images and other data.
Within a few months, Dawn is expected to run out of a key fuel, hydrazine, which feeds thrusters that control its orientation and keeps it communicating with Earth. When that happens, sometime between August and October, the spacecraft will stop operating, but it will remain in orbit around dwarf planet Ceres.
Dawn - Spacecraft - Destinations - Views - Ceres
Dawn is the only spacecraft to orbit two deep-space destinations. It has given us new, up-close views of Ceres and Vesta, the largest bodies between Mars and Jupiter. During 14 months in orbit from 2011 to 2012, Dawn studied Vesta from its surface to its core. It then pulled off an unprecedented maneuver by leaving orbit and traveling through the main asteroid belt for more than two years to reach and orbit Ceres, which it has been investigating since 2015.
At Ceres, the spacecraft discovered brilliant, salty deposits decorating the dwarf planet like a smattering of diamonds. The science behind these bright spots is even more compelling: they are mainly sodium carbonate and ammonium chloride that somehow made their way to the surface in a slushy brine from within or below the crust.
Discoveries - Efficiency - Ion - Propulsion - Dawn
These discoveries were fueled by the tremendous efficiency of ion propulsion. Dawn wasn't the first spacecraft to use ion propulsion, familiar to science-fiction fans as well as space enthusiasts, but it pushed the limits of this advanced propulsion's capabilities and stamina.
"Dawn's unique mission to orbit and explore two strange new worlds would have been impossible without ion propulsion," said Marc Rayman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, who has served as Dawn's mission director, chief engineer and project manager. "Dawn is truly an interplanetary spaceship, and it has been...
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