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NASA’s Space Probe ‘Dawn’ To Return Due To Lack of Key Fuel

It has continued to gather high-resolution images, gamma ray and neutron spectra, infrared spectra and gravity data at Ceres.

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Nasa's Opportunity rover might have 'died' on Mars. Flickr

After 11 years of gathering breathtaking imagery, and performing unprecedented feats of spacecraft engineering, Dawn — NASA’s space probe for the asteroid belt — is drawing to a close due to lack of a key fuel, the US space agency said.

Launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in September 2007, Dawn was majorly tasked to study two of the three known protoplanets of the asteroid belt Vesta and Ceres, which when combined, make up 45 per cent of the mass of the main asteroid belt.

The spacecraft is likely to run out of a key fuel knwon as hydrazine — which keeps it oriented and in communication with Earth — between September and October.

When that happens, Dawn will lose its ability to communicate with Earth, but will remain in a silent orbit around Ceres for decades, NASA said in a statement late on Thursday.

“Not only did this spacecraft unlock scientific secrets at these two small but significant worlds, it was also the first spacecraft to visit and orbit bodies at two extraterrestrial destinations during its mission,” said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at Headquarters in Washington.

Dawn NASA. asteroid
Dawn will lose its ability to communicate with Earth, but will remain in a silent orbit around Ceres for decades. (IANS)

 

From 2011 to 2012, the spacecraft swept over Vesta, capturing images of craters, canyons and even mountains of this planet-like world.

Then in 2015, Dawn’s cameras spotted a cryovolcano and mysterious bright spots on Ceres, which scientists later found might be salt deposits produced by the exposure of briny liquid from Ceres’ interior.

“Dawn has shown us alien worlds that, for two centuries, were just pinpoints of light amidst the stars. And it has produced these richly detailed, intimate portraits and revealed exotic, mysterious landscapes unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s mission director and chief engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in California.

It has continued to gather high-resolution images, gamma ray and neutron spectra, infrared spectra and gravity data at Ceres.

Dawn NASA. asteroid
This colorful composite image from NASA’s Dawn mission shows the flow of material inside and outside a crater called Aelia on the giant asteroid Vesta. Flickr

 

Nearly once a day, Dawn will swoop over Ceres about 22 miles (35 kilometers) from its surface — only about three times the altitude of a passenger jet — gathering valuable data until it expends the last of the hydrazine that feeds thrusters controlling its orientation.

Also Read: NASA Rocket Launch Tests Supersonic Parachute for Mars Rover Landings

Engineers have designed Dawn’s final orbit, around Ceres, which has no atmosphere, to ensure it will not crash for at least 20 years — and likely decades longer, NASA said.

According to Rayman, Dawn’s is “an inert, celestial monument to human creativity and ingenuity.”(IANS)

Next Story

NASA Astronauts Spacewalk to Change ISS Batteries

Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 55 days, 21 hours and 39 minutes working outside the station

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NASA researchers have created the atmosphere of a super-hot planet outside our solar system, here on Earth. Pixabay

Two NASA astronauts – Nick Hague and Anne McClain – have successfully completed an over six hour spacewalk and replaced the ageing batteries on the International Space Station (ISS).

During the six hour, 39 minute spacewalk, Hague and McClain replaced nickel-hydrogen batteries with newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries for the power channel on one pair of the station’s solar arrays, NASA said in a statement on Friday.

They also installed adapter plates and hooked up electrical connections for three of the six new lithium-ion batteries installed on the station’s starboard truss.

These new batteries provide an improved power capacity for operations with a lighter mass and a smaller volume than the nickel-hydrogen batteries.

The batteries store power generated by the station’s solar arrays to provide power to the station when the station is not in the sunlight, as it orbits the Earth during orbital night.

In addition, the astronaut duo also removed debris from outside of the station, securing a tieback for restraints on the Solar Array Blanket Box, NASA said.

NASA, mars
NASA will also have its first all-female spacewalk at the end of the month, when astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch will get to float around in space. The spacewalk will last about seven hours, according to the US space agency. Pixabay

McClain will again take a spacewalk on March 29 along with flight engineer Christina Koch to work on a second set of battery replacements on a different power channel in the same area of the ISS.

This would be the first-ever spacewalk with all-female spacewalkers, NASA said.

A third spacewalk on April 8 by Hague and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency will lay out jumper cables between the Unity module and the S0 truss, at the midpoint of the ISS’s backbone.

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This work will establish a redundant path of power to the Canadian-built robotic arm, known as Canadarm2. They will also install cables to provide for more expansive wireless communications coverage outside the orbital complex, as well as for enhanced hardwired computer network capability.

Space station crew members have until now conducted 214 spacewalks in support of assembly and maintenance of the orbiting laboratory.

Spacewalkers have now spent a total of 55 days, 21 hours and 39 minutes working outside the station. (IANS)