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
November 25, 2015 -Dawn Making Good Progress to Lower Altitude
During this spiral descent from the third mapping orbit to the final one, Dawn has paused ion thrusting on Thursdays so JPL mission controllers can transmit an updated flight plan. To give the flight team time off for Thanksgiving, the operations schedule has an update today instead of tomorrow. So this afternoon Dawn will stop thrusting and rotate to point its main antenna to Earth.
The tireless explorer will not take the holiday off. It will spend Thanksgiving using its ion propulsion system to reduce its orbital altitude. It will be thankful that on Nov. 26, its average altitude will be 335 miles (537 kilometers), so it will only have to lower its orbit by about 100 miles (160 kilometers) more.
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.