NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Has Powered Down for Good

NASA's Dawn Asteroid Mission Ends as Fuel Runs Out

A NASA spacecraft that launched 11 years ago and studied two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt has ended its mission after running out of fuel. "Dawn is no longer able to maintain the position at which its antenna is directed to Earth to communicate with mission control, and not able to change the orientation so that its batteries charged from solar panels".

"The fact that my car's license plate reads "my other vehicle is in the asteroid belt" shows how proud I am of Dawn", said Dawn mission's director and chief engineer Marc Rayman.

"The demands we put on Dawn were tremendous, but it met the challenge every time".

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA's Directorate of Scientific Missions, in Washington, praised Dawn's "science life" and "incredible technical achievements". Dawn visited Vesta and Ceres, becoming the first spacecraft to orbit two deep-space destinations.

The unmanned rocket has voyage 4.3 billion miles (6.9 billion kilometers) since launched in 2007.

Currently, it's in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, where it will remain for decades, NASA said.

"The wonderful images and data received from Dawn at Vesta and Ceres, is essential to understanding the history and evolution of the Solar system", says Tubergen. As the first spaceship to visit a dwarf planet, Dawn has also proved vital in revealing that these dinky worlds have the potential to support oceans.

Researchers at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC), said the new photo of the asteroid Bennu is just the first of more exciting observations to come. Strict planetary protection protocols govern how NASA can dispose of crafts like Dawn, as they do not want to interfere with the chemistry on Ceres.

An artist's concept of Dawn arriving at Ceres. Dawn spent nearly a decade studying a pair of asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, learning as much as it could about those odd worlds. "Dawn's data sets will be deeply mined by scientists working on how planets grow and differentiate, and when and where life could have formed in our solar system". The craft will continue to orbit Ceres for at least 20 years, though many on the team put that number closer to 50.

The Dawn spacecraft was never one of NASA's most widely known missions, but it helped expand our understanding of the solar system.

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