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05 November 2018, 10:42 | Edward Lowe
NASA's 'Dawn Mission' to an asteroid belt comes to an end
Propelled by three ion engines, the 11-year-old Dawn was the first spacecraft to orbit an object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and also the first to orbit two places beyond Earth. "Dawn is no longer able to maintain the position at which its antenna is directed to Earth to communicate with mission control, and not able to change the orientation so that its batteries charged from solar panels".
Once the spacecraft lost the scheduled communication with NASA'sDeep Space Network for two times on Wednesday and Thursday, the USA space agency officially declared the mission as "ended". "The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system". Dawn visited Vesta and Ceres, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit two deep-space destinations. That way, in case NASA wants to send a follow-up mission, Dawn will not collide with Ceres before they do, keeping the planet free from human-and bacterial-contamination.
Marc Rayman, mission director and chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, "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".
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The unmanned spacecraft has travelled 4.3 billion miles (6.9 billion kilometers) since launching in 2007.
"The demands we put on Dawn were tremendous, but it met the challenge every time. - Hard to say goodbye to this wonderful spacecraft, but the time has come". 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.
"In many ways, Dawn's legacy is just beginning", Principal Investigator Carol Raymond at JPL said. The OSIRIS-REx will only manage to enter the asteroid's orbit on December 13th, if everything goes according to plan.
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Dawn produced a complete map of the surface of Ceres and discovered ice volcanoes.
Shortly before Dawn used the last of its fuel, it maneuvered into a high, stable orbit, where scientists are confident it will stay for the next 50 years.
This became the official completion of his mission and declared the assistant administrator of management of scientific missions NASA Thomas Zurbuchen in the official press release. "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".
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