NASA Dawn prepares to leave Vesta for Ceres

Left: Vesta as seen by Hubble before Dawn, Right: and after

The Dawn spacecraft is preparing to leave the asteroid Vesta for its next exciting target: the dwarf planet Ceres. Departure is scheduled for Sept 4th:

Link — Dawn began its 3-billion-mile (5-billion kilometer) odyssey to explore the two most massive objects in the main asteroid belt in 2007. Dawn arrived at Vesta in July 2011 and will reach Ceres in early 2015. Dawn’s targets represent two icons of the asteroid belt that have been witness to much of our solar system’s history.

To make its escape from Vesta, the spacecraft will spiral away as gently as it arrived, using a special, hyper-efficient system called ion propulsion. Dawn’s ion propulsion system uses electricity to ionize xenon to generate thrust. The 12-inch-wide ion thrusters provide less power than conventional engines, but can maintain thrust for months at a time.

Best image of the dwarf planet Ceres as seen by the Hubble today


  1. F says

    It’s just so. fuckin’. cool. And I hope there will always be something to miss when I die. I don’t know if the current attitude towards flying local and interplanetary (non-military/spy)remote sensing machines is part of a longer trend, or just a phase, but it disturbs me.

  2. says

    I’ve measured my hoped-for lifespan by the arrival times of planetary missions since I was a teen. “Voyager 2 reaches Uranus in ’86, hope I can make it! Neptune in ’89, it’s a long shot but maybe if I’m lucky I’ll survive until then!” etc.

    There was a pretty long dry spell there for a while, and sadly another one probably coming up.

  3. davidmc says

    I always hoped, since the moon landings, aged 6, to watch a personed landing on Mars. The chances of that seem to be slipping away, if only Curiosity can discover something greedy people lust for, or something extraordinary.

  4. StevoR says

    @1.Jafafa Hots says:

    Ceres is the one I’ve been wanting to get a good look at for about 30 years. Guess I have to manage to stay alive until 2015.

    That makes two of us at least then! I feel exactly the same way. Can’t wait.

  5. The Lorax says

    This is brilliant. The first de-orbiting of a probe with the intention of traveling to another target and re-entering orbit. And, if they’re good enough, they might have enough fuel for a THIRD target. This is insane, and a fantastic test and proof of this technology.

    Vesta was a lovely rock with a clearly violent history, but Ceres just sings “planet”. I can’t wait for Dawn to get there. And Pluto on the same year! I LOVE it!

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