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NASA extends Dawn mission at dwarf planet Ceres

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Washington, Oct 20: NASA has approved a second extension of the Dawn mission at Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

During this extension, the spacecraft will descend to lower altitudes than ever before at the dwarf planet, which it has been orbiting since March 2015, the US space agency said on Thursday.

The spacecraft, which has already completed 10 years of spaceflight, will continue at Ceres for the remainder of its science investigation and will remain in a stable orbit indefinitely after its fuel runs out.

Dawn completed its prime mission in June 2016, and its first extension was also approved that year.

The Dawn flight team is studying ways to manoeuvre Dawn into a new elliptical orbit, which may take the spacecraft to less than 200 kilometres from the surface of Ceres at closest approach. Previously, Dawn’s lowest altitude was 385 kilometers.

A priority of the second Ceres mission extension is collecting data with Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, which measures the number and energy of gamma rays and neutrons, NASA said.

This information is important for understanding the composition of Ceres’ uppermost layer and how much ice it contains.

The spacecraft also will take visible-light images of Ceres’ surface geology with its camera, as well as measurements of Ceres’ mineralogy with its visible and infrared mapping spectrometer.

The extended mission at Ceres additionally allows Dawn to be in orbit while the dwarf planet goes through perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun, which will occur in April 2018.

Because of its commitment to protect Ceres from Earthly contamination, Dawn will not land or crash into Ceres.

Instead, it will carry out as much science as it can in its final planned orbit, where it will stay even after it can no longer communicate with Earth.

Mission planners estimate the spacecraft can continue operating until the second half of 2018.

Dawn is the only mission ever to orbit two extraterrestrial targets. It orbited giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months from 2011 to 2012, then continued on to Ceres, where it has been in orbit since March 2015.(IANS)

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Rocket Lab is Set To Launch 10 NASA CubeSats

They will be placed in RailPODs aboard the Electron rocket that will ferry them to space

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Kepler, NASA, tissue
Rocket Lab to launch 10 NASA CubeSats on Sunday. Pixabay

In its first mission for NASA, the American aerospace manufacturer Rocket Lab is set to launch 10 small research satellites, or CubeSats, from New Zealand, the US space agency said.

Owing to bad weather, Rocket Lab was forced to postpone the earlier decided launch on December 12.

Rocket Lab is now targeting the ELaNa-19 launch on December 15 with a launch window opening at 11 p.m. EST from the company’s launch complex on the Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand, NASA said in a statement on Friday.

The CubeSats were built by three NASA centres, seven universities, and a middle school under the NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites, or (ELaNa-19) mission.

ElaNa-19 is NASA’s first to be completely dedicated to launching CubeSats under the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services program for small-satellite launches.

More than 250 students have been involved in the design, development and construction of the CubeSats scheduled to be flown as payloads on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

NASA, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
Owing to bad weather, Rocket Lab was forced to postpone the earlier decided launch on December 12. Flickr

“The major difference between today’s launch and previous #ELaNa missions is that for the first time, NASA will have a launch completely dedicated to CubeSats rather than having the small satellites ride along with a much larger spacecraft that is the primary mission,” NASA Launch Services Program officials wrote on Twitter on December 12.

The 10 CubeSats are named as CubeSail, CeREs, NMTSat, CHOMPTT, ALBus, STF-1, ISX, RSat, Shields-1 and DaVinci, NASA said.

These are built to standard dimensions of one unit (1U), and can be 1U, 2U, 3U or 6U in size. They generally weigh less than 1.33 kg per U — 6U may be up to 12 kg.

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They will be placed in RailPODs aboard the Electron rocket that will ferry them to space.

After the main payload deploys, the CubeSats will separate from their RailPODs. After 45 minutes in orbit, the CubeSat transmitters will turn on and university ground stations will listen for their beacons, determine their small satellites’ functionality and announce operational status.

CubeSat mission durations and orbital life vary but are anticipated to last at least three years. Upon mission completion, the CubeSats fall to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere, NASA noted. (IANS)