Published: Mon, November 05, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

NASA's Dawn asteroid mission ends as fuel runs out

NASA's Dawn asteroid mission ends as fuel runs out

Dawn missed scheduled communications sessions with NASA's Deep Space Networkon Wednesday, Oct. 31, and Thursday, Nov. 1.

- Once the management group has ruled out other possible causes of lack of communication, experts came to the conclusion that aboard the station finally ended the hydrazine fuel, the use of which enables the station to maintain orientation in flight.

Dawn can no longer keep its antennae trained on Earth to communicate with mission control or turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge, according to the United States space agency.

"The demands we put on Dawn were tremendous, but it met the challenge every time". It then moved to the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015, becoming the first spacecraft to visit such a space object, NASA reported.

"The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system", Zurbuchen added. This is why the scientists studying Dawn's data believe that Ceres once hosted an ocean, and there could even be liquid beneath the surface.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA's Directorate of Scientific Missions, in Washington, praised Dawn's "science life" and "incredible technical achievements".

The Kepler space telescope ran out of fuel earlier this week, as expected, ending its nine and a half year mission of hunting for planets outside our solar system.

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Dawn launched in 2007 on a journey that put about 6.9 billion kilometers on its odometer. Currently, it is in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, where it will remain for decades, Nasa said.

Dawn's demise is the latest in a series of spacecraft troubles for NASA. As the first spaceship to visit a dwarf planet, Dawn has also proved vital in revealing that these dinky worlds have the potential to support oceans.

The Dawn mission was managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with spacecraft components contributed by European partners from Italy, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Dawn spent nearly a decade studying a pair of asteroids in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, learning as much as it could about those unusual worlds.

"In many ways, Dawn's legacy is just beginning", said Dawn's principal investigator Carol Raymond.

An artist's concept of Dawn arriving at Ceres.

Shortly before Dawn used the last of its fuel, it maneuvered into a high, stable orbit, where scientists are confident it will stay for the next 50 years.

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