April 17, 2018 — Dawn Maneuvering to Lower Orbit
Dawn is flying to a lower altitude over Ceres. Under the gentle thrust of ion engine #2, the spacecraft is gradually reshaping its orbit around the dwarf planet. It will take a month to maneuver to the new orbit, designated extended mission orbit 6 (XMO6). Last month's Dawn Journal gives an overview of the plans.
Today Dawn will descend from 16,900 miles (27,300 kilometers) to 15,200 miles (24,400 kilometers).
Although the new orbit will be lower than the previous orbit, Dawn continues to follow an elliptical path around Ceres. The ion thrusting will gradually shrink that ellipse. As a result, most of the time Dawn will get closer to Ceres but sometimes it will ascend, although to a lower peak altitude each time. This will become more apparent as we track the altitude in upcoming mission status reports.