NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Enroute to Shed Light on Asteroid Belt
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA's Dawn spacecraft is on its way to
study a pair of asteroids after lifting off Thursday from the Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station at 7:34 a.m. EDT (4:34 a.m. PDT).
Mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,
Calif., received telemetry on schedule at 9:44 a.m. EDT (6:44 a.m. PDT)
indicating Dawn had achieved proper orientation in space and its massive
solar array was generating power from the sun.
Image right: Rising above a cloud-filled horizon, the Delta II rocket carrying the Dawn spacecraft roared into the sky. Image credit: NASA
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"Dawn has risen, and the spacecraft is healthy," said the mission's
project manager Keyur Patel of JPL. "About this time tomorrow [Friday morning],
we will have passed the moon's orbit."
During the next 80 days, spacecraft controllers will test and calibrate the
myriad of spacecraft systems and subsystems, ensuring Dawn is ready for the
long journey ahead.
"Dawn will travel back in time by probing deep into the asteroid belt,"
said Dawn Principal Investigator Christopher Russell, University of California,
Los Angeles. "This is a moment the space science community has been waiting
for since interplanetary spaceflight became possible."
Dawn's 4.8-billion-kilometer (3-billion-mile) odyssey includes exploration
of asteroid Vesta in 2011 and the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015. These two icons
of the asteroid belt have been witness to much of our solar system's history.
By using Dawn's instruments to study both asteroids, scientists more accurately
can compare and contrast the two. Dawn's science instrument suite will measure
elemental and mineral composition, shape, surface topography, and tectonic history,
and will also seek water-bearing minerals. In addition, the Dawn spacecraft and
how it orbits Vesta and Ceres will be used to measure the celestial bodies'
masses and gravity fields.
Image left: Nearly enveloped by the smoke after ignition, the Delta II rocket carrying NASA's Dawn spacecraft rises from the smoke and fire on the launch pad Image credit: NASA
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The spacecraft's engines use a unique, hyper-efficient system called ion
propulsion, which uses electricity to ionize xenon to generate thrust. The
30-centimeter-wide (12-inch) ion thrusters provide less power than conventional
engines but can maintain thrust for months at a time.
The management of the Dawn launch was the responsibility of NASA's Kennedy Space
Center, Fla. The Delta 2 launch vehicle was provided by United Launch Alliance, Denver.
The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL, a division of the California
Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA's Science Mission
The University of California, Los Angeles, is responsible for overall Dawn mission
science. Other scientific partners include Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M.; Max
Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg, Germany; DLR Institute for
Planetary Research, Berlin; Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, Rome; and
the Italian Space Agency. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va., designed and
built the Dawn spacecraft.
To learn more about Dawn and its mission to the asteroid belt, visit:
Media contacts: DC Agle 818-393-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
Allard Beutel 321-867-2468 Kennedy Space Center, Fla.