Dawn opens its eyes, checks its instruments

March 22, 2011 By Jia-Rui C. Cook
NASA's Dawn spacecraft, illustrated in this artist's concept, is propelled by ion engines. Credit: NASA/JPL

(PhysOrg.com) -- After a hibernation of about six months, the framing cameras on board NASA's Dawn spacecraft have again ventured a look into the stars. The spacecraft also powered up its visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, which investigates surface mineralogy, and the gamma ray and neutron detector, which detects elemental composition. The reactivation prepares the instruments for the May approach and July arrival at Vesta, Dawn's first port of call in the asteroid belt.

"Last week, we gently 'woke up' Dawn's three science instruments, which typically spend most of their time sleeping during the three-and-a-half-year journey to Vesta," said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "This activity confirms that Dawn is on track for the first close examination of one of the last unexplored worlds of the ."

The framing camera activities were led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany. "The camera system is working flawlessly. The dry run was a complete success," said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera, based at the Institute.

The international team of Dawn scientists and engineers in Germany and the United States spent three days interacting with the camera system, confirming the excellent health of the mechanical and electrical components and updating the software.

This image taken by framing camera 2 demonstrates, that the framing cameras on board NASA's Dawn spacecraft are functioning flawlessly. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

In the months to come, the camera system will provide images needed to navigate the spacecraft to its rendezvous with Vesta, and will begin to image the asteroid's surface. These early images on approach will be the start of a campaign to systematically map Vesta's surface in detail and will provide tantalizing clues as to its mineralogical composition. In addition, the framing cameras will search for moons in Vesta's vicinity and look for evidence of past volcanic activity.

The Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Explore further: Only Five More Days for Your Name to Rise With the Dawn

Related Stories

Dawn moves closer to the asteroid belt

September 12, 2007

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has been positioned at Kennedy Space Center's launch pad 17B atop a Delta II rocket for its launch from Florida later this month.

Dawn Mission Status: Spacecraft Tests Ion Engine

October 10, 2007

NASA's Dawn spacecraft successfully completed the first test of its ion propulsion system over the weekend. The system is vital to the success of Dawn's 8-year, 1.6 billion-mile (3-billion-kilometer) journey to asteroid Vesta ...

Dawn Glides Into New Year

November 21, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft shut down its ion propulsion system today as scheduled. The spacecraft is now gliding toward a Mars flyby in February of next year.

Dawn Finishes Mars Phase

February 27, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- With Mars disappearing in its metaphorical rearview mirror, NASA's Dawn spacecraft's next stop is the asteroid belt and the giant asteroid Vesta. Dawn got as close as 549 kilometers (341 miles) to the Red ...

Recommended for you

NASA's space-station resupply missions to relaunch

November 29, 2015

NASA's commercial space program returns to flight this week as one of its private cargo haulers, Orbital ATK, is to launch its first supply shipment to the International Space Station in more than 13 months.

The hottest white dwarf in the Galaxy

November 25, 2015

Astronomers at the Universities of Tübingen and Potsdam have identified the hottest white dwarf ever discovered in our Galaxy. With a temperature of 250,000 degrees Celsius, this dying star at the outskirts of the Milky ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2 / 5 (2) Mar 22, 2011

I look forward to learning if the results will confirm or conflict with earlier reports that the chemical composition of asteroids changes with distance from the Sun, as planets do.

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
not rated yet Mar 24, 2011
We require more asteroid minerals.

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.