Published: Mon, November 05, 2018
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NASA’s Dawn mission to unusual places in our solar system ends

NASA’s Dawn mission to unusual places in our solar system ends

NASA says the Dawn flight team checked through a number of possible causes for the lack of contact but the mission's managers realized that the spacecraft simply ran out of its hydrazine fuel.

Dawn can no longer keep its antennas trained on Earth to communicate with mission control or turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge.

"The fact that my car's license plate reads "my other vehicle is in the asteroid belt" shows how proud I am of Dawn", said Dawn mission's director and chief engineer Marc Rayman.

Dawn was a mission of firsts, as it not only became the first spacecraft to orbit a celestial body between Mars and Jupiter (Vesta, the second-largest body in the main asteroid belt) but also the first to visit a dwarf planet and orbit two planetoids other than Earth.

Propelled by an efficient ion engine, Dawn delved into the unknown and achieved what's never been attempted before: it is the first mission to orbit an object in the main asteroid belt, the first to visit a dwarf planet, and the first to orbit two deep-space destinations, according to NASA. Associate administrator, Thomas Zurbuchen from the NASA science mission directorate in Washington, hailed Dawn's "incredible technical achievements" and "vital science". "Dawn's data sets will be deeply mined by scientists working on how planets grow and differentiate, and when and where life could have formed in our solar system". The space agency retired its Kepler Space Telescope on Tuesday.

The unmanned rocket has voyage 4.3 billion miles (6.9 billion kilometers) since launched in 2007.

Dawn is now in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres about 243 million miles away from the sun.

"In many ways, Dawn's legacy is just beginning", said the mission's principal Investigator, Carol Raymond of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Before arriving to Ceres, the spacecraft had recorded details about new phenomena that challenged everything we know about these dwarf planets.

Dawn's demise is the latest in a series of spacecraft troubles for NASA. 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 odd worlds.

Dawn will remain in orbit around Ceres for at least the next 20 years, although the engineers putting it into this orbit are confident that it could last 50 years.

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