The Dawn mission, NASA’s innovative planetary probe to asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres, is remarkable for a number of firsts. It is the first such craft to use ion propulsion. It will be the first to orbit not just one but two separate solar system bodies. And, of course, it will be the first to explore the asteroid belt up close.

Launched in September 2007, Dawn is now farther from Earth than is the Sun. Last February, it received a gravitational assist from the planet Mars. In July 2011, a little over a year from now, it will enter orbit around Vesta, where it will remain for a year. It will depart Vesta in July 2012 and arrive at Ceres in February 2015.

Ceres (NASA -- Hubble Space Telescope)

In How Captain Kirk Changed the World, NASA writer Dauna Coulter discusses the Dawn mission and its ion propulsion system in a succinct two-page overview.

You can also find additional interesting information and a variety of resources at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Dawn Mission website, including a one-page outline of principal Mission Objectives, an excellent 2-page Dawn Mission Fact Sheet, along with a series of multimedia resources and other modules.

There’s yet more at NASA Science News in Voyage to the Giant Asteroids.

Asteroid Vesta (NASA -- Hubble Space Telescope)

Published in: on May 6, 2010 at 4:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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