PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has gone silent, ending a historic mission that studied time capsules from the solar system’s earliest chapter.
Dawn missed scheduled communications sessions with NASA’s Deep Space Network on Wednesday, Oct. 31, and Thursday, Nov. 1. After the flight team eliminated other possible causes for the missed communications, mission managers concluded that the spacecraft finally ran out of hydrazine, the fuel that enables the spacecraft to control its pointing. Dawn can no longer keep its antennas trained on Earth to communicate with mission control or turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Two vastly different NASA spacecraft are about to run out of fuel: The Kepler spacecraft, which spent nine years in deep space collecting data that detected thousands of planets orbiting stars outside our solar system, and the Dawn spacecraft, which spent 11 years orbiting and studying the main asteroid belt’s two largest objects, Vesta and Ceres.
PASEDENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — At first glance, Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt, may not look icy. Images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft have revealed a dark, heavily cratered world whose brightest area is made of highly reflective salts — not ice. But newly published studies from Dawn scientists show two distinct lines of evidence for ice at or near the surface of the dwarf planet. Researchers are presenting these findings at the 2016 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Since its capture by the gravity of dwarf planet Ceres on March 6, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has performed flawlessly, continuing to thrust with its ion engine as planned. The thrust, combined with Ceres’ gravity, is gradually guiding the spacecraft into a circular orbit around the dwarf planet. All of the spacecraft’s systems and instruments are in excellent health.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has become the first mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet. The spacecraft was approximately 38,000 miles (61,000) kilometers from Ceres when it was captured by the dwarf planet’s gravity at about 4:39 a.m. PST (7:39 a.m. EST) Friday.
Mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California received a signal from the spacecraft at 5:36 a.m. PST (8:36 a.m. EST) that Dawn was healthy and thrusting with its ion engine, the indicator Dawn had entered orbit as planned.
Video Caption: Ion propulsion isn’t something found only in science fiction. JPL engineer Mike Meacham looks at how ion engines are being used to drive NASA’s Dawn spacecraft through the solar system. Dawn is approaching dwarf planet Ceres in the main asteroid belt with arrival expected in March 2015. Previously, Dawn orbited Vesta, the second-largest body in the asteroid belt. Learn how ion propulsion works and why it’s the reason Dawn will be the first spacecraft ever to orbit two solar system bodies beyond Earth. More about Dawn at: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/
Update: Added Falcon Heavy flight test to the list.
A number of very cool space missions are set to unfold in the coming year. Here’s a brief rundown:
Jan. 6: Falcon 9 Barge Landing Attempt. SpaceX will attempt to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a barge. The goal is to recover the stage intact for later relaunch. Success could lead to significantly lower launch costs in the years ahead.
March 5: Dawn Arrives at Ceres. Having completed an exploration of the asteroid Vesta, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is due to arrive at the dwarf planet Ceres on March 5. The vehicle will enter orbit around the unexplored world, which is the largest object in the Asteroid Belt.