NASA’s Dawn asteroid mission ends as fuel runs out

NASA’s Dawn asteroid mission ends as fuel runs out

NASA’s Dawn asteroid mission ends as fuel runs out

The probe, now in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, missed communications with NASA's Deep Space Network on Wednesday and Thursday; and mission managers were forced to confirm the end of the mission. - 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.

"Today, we celebrate the end of our Dawn mission - its incredible technical achievements, the vital science it gave us, and the entire team who enabled the spacecraft to make these discoveries", said Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Arrays of the data collected by Dawn will be deeply researched by scientists who are trying to figure out how planets grow and geologically differenciate when and where life may have formed in the Solar system.

On Oct. 31 and Nov.1, Dawn missed scheduled communication check-ins, unable to turn its solar panels to the sun to recharge and train its antennae on Earth.

The spacecraft had been on its way out since June, NASA engineers sending it into its closest orbit with dwarf planet Ceres on the last few months of its fuel. The unmanned spacecraft has traveled 4.3 billion miles (6.9 billion kilometers) since launching in 2007.

In 2015, when Dawn went into orbit around Ceres, a dwarf planet that is also the largest world in the asteroid belt, the mission became the first to visit a dwarf planet and go into orbit around two destinations beyond Earth, it said.

The first spacecraft to visit the asteroid belt's largest worlds has gone dark after 11 years.

'The demands we put on Dawn were tremendous, but it met the challenge every time.

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"To within our current uncertainty, there's zero usable hydrazine remaining", said Marc Rayman, chief engineer and mission director for Dawn at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during a presentation October 4 at the International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany.

According to NASA, the Dawn mission has completed several tasks that no other mission has achieved.

Dawn was the first spacecraft to orbit two different extraterrestrial bodies.

Dawn's four science experiments furthered humanity's understanding of planet formation and showed that dwarf planets could once have hosted their own oceans, and may still.

The end of the Dawn mission comes two days after NASA announced the end of another mission, Kepler. "It carried humankind on a truly awesome deep space adventure with stunning discoveries".

The early birthplace of bodies was key to how the early solar system organised and evolved. "Ceres and Vesta are important for studies of distant planetary systems, because they provide an opportunity to understand the conditions that exist in the vicinity of young stars", - said the scientific head of mission Carol Raymond. The spacecraft itself may indeed be dead, but Dawn's contribution to science is far from over. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are worldwide partners on the mission team.

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