This movie presents a series of animations showing NASA's Dawn spacecraft journey to and operations at the giant asteroid Vesta. The surface of Vesta shown in these animations is a conceptual model, based on the expected distribution of craters on Vesta's surface. The first animation traces the path of Dawn through the solar system, on its way to orbit the two most massive objects in the main asteroid belt. Dawn arrives at Vesta in July 2011 and the dwarf planet Ceres in February 2015.
The second animation shows Dawn as it prepares to orbit the protoplanet Vesta.
The third animation shows Dawn spacecraft flying above an artist's concept of the surface of Vesta.
The fourth animation shows the different altitudes at which the spacecraft will orbit Vesta as it gathers science. An initial reconnaissance phase, known as survey orbit, takes place at an altitude of approximately 1,700 miles (2,700 kilometers) and lasts about 20 days. A closer phase known as high altitude mapping orbit will take place about 420 miles (680 kilometers) above the surface and last about 30 days. The lowest phase is known as low altitude mapping orbit, approximately 120 miles (200 kilometers) above the surface, and lasts about 70 days. Dawn will also conduct one more high altitude mapping orbit phase for about 20 days as it spirals away from Vesta.
The fifth animation shows Dawn scanning the conceptual model of the surface of Vesta.
The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. It is a project of the Discovery Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., designed and built the Dawn spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are part of the mission team.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech