Dawn delves into the unknown and achieves what's never been attempted before. A mission in NASA's Discovery Program, Dawn orbited and explored the giant protoplanet Vesta in 2011-2012, and now it is in orbit and exploring a second new world, dwarf planet Ceres.
Dawn's goal is to characterize the conditions and processes of its earliest history by investigating in detail two of the largest protoplanets remaining intact since their formation. Ceres and Vesta reside in the main asteroid belt, the extensive region between Mars and Jupiter, along with many other smaller bodies. Each followed a very different evolutionary path, constrained by the diversity of processes that operated during the first few million years of solar system evolution. When Dawn visits Ceres and Vesta, the spacecraft steps us back in solar system time.
Current Status> from Chief Engineer/Dawn Mission Director
May 22, 2015 - Dawn's Orbital Maneuvers Progressing Well
Dawn has made good progress this week continuing to reshape its orbit around Ceres. Today the spacecraft's altitude reaches down to 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers). Now, as earlier in the week, it will ascend slowly for a while, traveling up to 4,200 miles (6,700 kilometers) on May 24. Even as it climbs, Dawn will continue using its ion engine to maneuver to the next planned mapping orbit at 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers).
Later today the explorer will stop ion-thrusting to take pictures of Ceres for navigation. This is the second and final photo op between mapping orbits. Dawn will resume thrusting tomorrow.
Where is Dawn now?> View
Want to know how far away Dawn is, or how fast it is traveling? These questions have multiple answers since the answer depends on what you use as a reference frame. Each simulation gives the answer to both of these questions with respect to the Sun, Ceres, Earth, and Vesta.
The Dawn spacecraft combines innovative state-of-the-art technologies pioneered by other recent missions with off-the-shelf components and, in some cases, spare parts and instrumentation left over from previous missions.
Ion Propulsion System> View
Dawn's futuristic, hyper-efficient ion propulsion system allows Dawn to go into orbit around two different solar system bodies, a first for any spacecraft. Meeting the ambitious mission objectives would be impossible without the ion engines.
Dawn's mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK, Inc., of Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The framing cameras were provided by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany, with significant contributions by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer was funded and coordinated by the Italian Space Agency and built by SELEX ES, with the scientific leadership of the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology, Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, Italy, and is operated by the Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology, Rome, Italy. The gamma ray and neutron detector was built by Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, and is operated by the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.