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Science Operations End For NASA's Dawn Spacecraft

last image ceres

This photo of Ceres and one of its key landmarks, Ahuna Mons, was one of the last views Dawn transmitted before it completed its mission. This view, which faces south, was captured on Sept. 1 at an altitude of 2220 miles (3570 kilometers) as the spacecraft was ascending in its elliptical orbit. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA


NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has gone silent, ending an 11-year odyssey that explored the two largest objects in the main asteroid belt, giant asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. Dozens of PSI scientists have worked on the mission. 

PSI CEO and Director Mark Sykes, a mission co-Investigator, was among those who developed the mission concept back in 1999. “This was the fifth proposal of our group, led by the Dawn PI Christopher T. Russell of UCLA, to promote the revolutionary capabilities of solar-electric propulsion in Solar System exploration,” said Sykes. “Our multiple asteroid rendezvous proposals were always anchored by Vesta, the source of basaltic meteorites on Earth. Once Ceres became available as a second target, we had a compelling case to compare the evolution of dry and water-rich protoplanetary bodies.”

PSI Senior Scientist Thomas Prettyman, a mission co-Investigator, is the lead for the Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND) investigation. He has been involved with Dawn for about 18 years in all mission phases, from concept through end of mission. “Dawn has carried out the first exploration of the main asteroid belt, providing a detailed understanding of the geology of Vesta and Ceres, once just faint glimmers of light in a telescope,” Prettyman said. 

While the Dawn spacecraft has stopped sending new information to scientists on Earth, researchers will have enough data from the mission to keep them busy for years. “While mission operations are ending, we still have quite a bit of work left to do, including archiving of data and publication of results,” Prettyman said. “Our team will continue to progress on analyzing and interpreting the new, low altitude data that we’ve acquired. The number of elliptical orbits and quality of data we’ve received has far exceeded our expectations.”




Dec. 2, 2018
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