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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, Hubble, Keplar, asteroids
NASA telescopes capture birth of black hole or neutron star. 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

China on Consecutive Missions To Moon and Mars

The 2011 Wolf Amendment, motivated by security concerns, bans NASA scientists from working with Chinese citizens affiliated to a Chinese state enterprise or entity

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NASA, Moon
China plans another Moon mission in 2019, targets Mars in 2020: Report

Riding on its success of landing a rover on the far side of the Moon earlier in January, China’s space agency is planning to launch another mission to the Moon by the end of 2019 and a mission to Mars as early as 2020, the media reported.

The plans underscore China’s ambitions in space at a time when the US is curtailing NASA’s budget and increasingly handing over space exploration to commercial adventurers, the Washington Post reported on Monday.

The China National Space Administration is working to send a probe to the Red Planet, said Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of the agency.

“China will carry out its first-ever exploration mission to Mars around 2020,” he said.

On January 3, China’s robotic spacecraft Chang’e-4 landed on the far side of the moon, a first in the human history of space exploration.

The 1.3-tonne lander, which made a soft landing on the Moon, put potato seeds and silkworm eggs housed in a chamber, and fed natural light and nutrition, on the Moon.

The space agency plans to launch a Chang’e-5 mission at the end of 2019 with the goal of collecting samples from the near side of the moon, Wu said. They would be the first samples retrieved since 1976.

China is also building its own space station, called Tiangong or Heavenly Palace, which is expected to be operational in 2022. But the agency is still deciding whether to send astronauts to the Moon, Wu said.

NASA mars, UAE, Hubble
China plans to land Mars in 2020 VOA

It also deployed a small rover called Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit-2, to explore the surrounding lunar terrain, which is believed to be older than that on the near side.

“All these are first-time breakthroughs for humankind,” Wu said, adding “they are bound to make significant impacts on both China and the world.”

Meanwhile, China also said it has shared data with NASA about the Chang’e-4 lunar mission.

That claim could not be immediately substantiated, but it could raise eyebrows on Capitol Hill because NASA and the Chinese agency are prohibited from cooperating without congressional approval, the report said.

Also Read: China Exchanged Data With NASA On Its Recent Mission To Moon

The 2011 Wolf Amendment, motivated by security concerns, bans NASA scientists from working with Chinese citizens affiliated to a Chinese state enterprise or entity.

“Expanded international cooperation is the wish of all scientists,” Wu said. “It takes joining of forces among the world’s big space powers to really make a difference in human space exploration.” (IANS)