Dawn easing into its final science orbit

Jun 15, 2012 By Priscilla Vega and Jia-Rui 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) -- After successfully completing nearly five months scrutinizing the giant asteroid Vesta at its lowest orbit altitude, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will begin its final major science data-gathering phase at Vesta on June 15, at an average altitude of 420 miles (680 kilometers) above the surface.

Over the past six weeks, Dawn has been gently spiraling up from its lowest orbit - 130 miles, or 210 kilometers, above the surface - to the final planned science orbit, known as high-altitude mapping orbit 2. Observations obtained from this orbit will provide a companion set of data and images to those obtained during the first high-altitude mapping orbit phase, completed in October 2011. A key difference will be that the angle of sunlight hitting Vesta has changed, illuminating more of its northern region. The principal science observations planned in this new orbit will be obtained with the framing camera and the visible and .

Following this final science data gathering phase, Dawn will then spend almost five weeks spiraling out from the giant asteroid to the point at which Vesta will lose its gravitational hold on the spacecraft. That departure day is expected to be around Aug. 26. Dawn will turn to view Vesta as it leaves and acquire more data. Then, Dawn will set its sights on the dwarf planet Ceres, and begin a two-and-a-half year journey to investigate the largest body in the . Dawn will enter orbit around Ceres in 2015.

Explore further: NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Dawn spacecraft spirals down to lowest orbit

Dec 13, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft successfully maneuvered into its closest orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta today, beginning a new phase of science observations. The spacecraft is now circling Vesta ...

Dawn beams back asteroid science data

Aug 12, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Dawn spacecraft has completed a graceful spiral into the first of four planned science orbits during the spacecraft's yearlong visit to Vesta. The spacecraft started taking detailed observations ...

Dawn mission video shows Vesta's coat of many colors

Jun 07, 2012

(Phys.org) -- A new video from NASA's Dawn mission reveals the dappled, variegated surface of the giant asteroid Vesta. The animation drapes high-resolution false color images over a 3-D model of the Vesta ...

Dawn gets extra time to explore Vesta

Apr 19, 2012

(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. ...

Dawn sends first low altitude images of Vesta

Dec 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Dawn spacecraft has sent back the first images of the giant asteroid Vesta from its low-altitude mapping orbit. The images, obtained by the framing camera, show the stippled and lumpy ...

NASA's Dawn science team presents early science results

Oct 13, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists with NASA's Dawn mission are sharing with other scientists and the public their early information about the southern hemisphere of the giant asteroid Vesta. The findings were presented ...

Recommended for you

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

1 hour ago

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

Apr 18, 2014

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

Apr 18, 2014

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.