The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has approved second extension of Dawn mission at Ceres dwarf planet which is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
During this extension, Dawn spacecraft will descend to lower altitudes than ever before at dwarf planet, which it has been orbiting since March 2015. It will continue remainder of its science investigation of Ceres and will remain in a stable orbit indefinitely after its hydrazine fuel runs out.
The priority of second extension mission is to collect data with Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, which measures number and energy of gamma rays and neutrons. The information obtained will help in understanding composition of Ceres’ uppermost layer and presence of ice it contains.
During this extended mission, Dawn spacecraft will take visible-light images of Ceres’ surface geology with its camera, as well as measurements of dwarf planet’s mineralogy with its visible and infrared mapping spectrometer. It will also allow Dawn to be in orbit when dwarf planet goes through perihelion, its closest approach to Sun, which will occur in April 2018.
It was launched by NASA in 2007 to study the two massive protoplanets of the asteroid belt: Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres, celestial bodies believed to have accreted early in the history of the solar system. The mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Dawn spacecraft’s major components are contributed by NASA’s European partners i.e. from German Aerospace Center, Italian National Astrophysical Institute and Italian Space Agency and. It is NASA’s first exploratory mission to use ion propulsion to enter orbits.
It had created history by becoming only mission ever to orbit two extraterrestrial targets. It orbited giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months from 2011 to 2012, then continued on to dwarf planet Ceres, where it has been in orbit since March 2015.