Dawn Spacecraft Lifts Off

September 27, 2007
Dawn Spacecraft Lifts Off
A spectacular launch of the Dawn spacecraft into a beautiful Florida sky. Photo credit: NASA

The Dawn spacecraft thundered off the launch pad aboard a Delta II rocket on the first part of its journey to the asteroid belt.

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.

Mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., received telemetry on schedule at 9:44 a.m. indicating Dawn had achieved proper orientation in space and its massive solar array was generating power from the sun.

"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 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, tectonic history, and it will 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.

The spacecraft's engines use a unique, hyper-efficient system called ion propulsion, which uses electricity to ionize xenon to generate thrust. The 12-inch-wide ion thrusters provide less power than conventional engines but can maintain thrust for months at a time.

Source: NASA

Explore further: The dwarf planet Ceres

Related Stories

The dwarf planet Ceres

August 12, 2015

The asteroid belt is a pretty interesting place. In addition to containing between 2.8 and 3.2 quintillion metric tons of matter, the region is also home to many minor planets. The largest of these, known as Ceres, is not ...

Fly over Ceres in new video

June 8, 2015

A new animated video of dwarf planet Ceres, based on images taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, provides a unique perspective of this heavily cratered, mysterious world.

New names and insights at Ceres

July 29, 2015

Colorful new maps of Ceres, based on data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, showcase a diverse topography, with height differences between crater bottoms and mountain peaks as great as 9 miles (15 kilometers).

Vesta's potassium-to-thorium ratio reveals hot origins

July 23, 2015

Studies of materials on the surface of Vesta offer new evidence that the giant asteroid is the source of howardite, eucrite and diogenite (HED) basaltic meteorites, supporting current models of solar system evolution and ...

Recommended for you

New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits ...

Ceres image: The lonely mountain

August 25, 2015

NASA's Dawn spacecraft spotted this tall, conical mountain on Ceres from a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers).

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.