Dawn gets extra time to explore Vesta

Apr 19, 2012 By Jia-Rui C. Cook
This artist's concept shows NASA's Dawn spacecraft orbiting the giant asteroid Vesta. The depiction of Vesta is based on images obtained by Dawn's framing cameras. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(Phys.org) -- NASA's Dawn mission has received official confirmation that 40 extra days have been added to its exploration of the giant asteroid Vesta, the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt. The mission extension allows Dawn to continue its scientific observations at Vesta until Aug. 26, while still arriving at the dwarf planet Ceres at the same originally scheduled target date in February 2015.

"We are leveraging our smooth and successful operations at Vesta to provide for even more for NASA and the world." said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "This extra time will allow us to extend our scientific investigation and learn more about this mysterious world."

The extension will not require any new funding, and will draw on financial reserves that have been carefully managed by the Dawn project. The flexibility provided by the spacecraft's use of efficient allows it to maintain its originally planned Ceres arrival.

The extension allows for extra observations at Dawn's current low-altitude mapping orbit (average altitude 130 miles or 210 kilometers), which will now last until May 1. The additional time enables the gamma ray and to build the best possible maps of the of Vesta's surface and improve data for the gravity experiment, the two primary scientific investigations at the low-altitude orbit. The spacecraft's camera and spectrometer are also obtaining additional high-resolution images.

Additional time will also be spent in the planned second high-altitude mapping orbit later this summer. When Dawn arrived at Vesta in July 2011, much of the northern hemisphere was in shadow. But with the passage of time, more of that area will bask in sunshine.

"Dawn has beamed back to us such dazzling Vestan vistas that we are happy to stay a little longer and learn more about this special world," said Christopher Russell, Dawn's principal investigator at UCLA. "While we have this one-of-a-kind opportunity to orbit Vesta, we want to make the best and most complete datasets that we can."

Explore further: NASA picks Boeing and SpaceX to ferry astronauts

More information: For more information about the Dawn mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/dawn and dawn.jpl.nasa.gov

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User comments : 6

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Shootist
not rated yet Apr 19, 2012
Does this impact at all Dawn's loiter time at Ceres?
dschlink
not rated yet Apr 19, 2012
No, the plan is still Feb. 2015 to July 2015. The only change is the new transfer orbit will use a little more propellent for the ion engine. That doesn't effect orbital supplies.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (2) Apr 19, 2012
Extra time around Vesta should also allow the team to get better at using the spasecraft's instruments and thereby make better use of the time at Ceres.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (1) Apr 19, 2012
Extra time around Vesta should also allow the team to get better at using the spasecraft's instruments and thereby make better use of the time at Ceres.


Unless I missed something, I think it's going to be permanently orbiting Ceres, unless they've selected another target I've never heard mentioned?

Edit:

Like a half billion dollars for this ting, and the best the article could do is give us an "artists conception".

Who the hell gets paid to do this stuff?
aironeous
1 / 5 (1) Apr 19, 2012
Hope this helps asteroid mining to start because without that you are seriously limited in everything you are trying to do in space and colonization. You have to get capitalism involved.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (1) Apr 20, 2012
It's hard not to use an "artist's conception" of a spacecraft in orbit around another body. How would we get a photo of it? The only cameras there are on the craft!