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NASA's Dawn mission ends as probe falls silent


Posted on Sunday, 4 November, 2018 | Comment icon 13 comments

An artist's impression of Dawn approaching Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
After spending years unravelling the mysteries of the dwarf planet Ceres, Dawn has finally run out of fuel.
Launched back in September 2007, Dawn's goal was to explore two of the three largest objects in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

It entered in to orbit around the asteroid Vesta in 2011 before arriving at Ceres four years later.

During its mission, Dawn helped to discover a great many things about these enigmatic bodies including the presence of sodium carbonate deposits on Ceres' surface which appeared as bright spots in photographs taken by the spacecraft during its approach.

The demise of the probe was reported this week after it failed to make contact during two scheduled communications sessions on October 31st and November 1st.

NASA concluded that Dawn's hydrazine fuel supply had run out, meaning that it can no longer aim its antennae towards the Earth or turn its solar panels towards the Sun to recharge its batteries.

"Today, we celebrate the end of our Dawn mission - its incredible technical achievements, the vital science it gave us, and the entire team who enabled the spacecraft to make these discoveries," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

"The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system."

Source: Phys.org | Comments (13)

Tags: Dawn, Ceres

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #4 Posted by seanjo on 5 November, 2018, 7:49
Can it be refueled? I know that's not possible right now, but, in the future, if we spread out, is there a "fuel cap/connection" that could be used to replenish it? Just something I wondered about.
Comment icon #5 Posted by cyclopes500 on 5 November, 2018, 10:36
Ceres and Vesta used to be a mystery to me. Good to know most of the mystery is solved from a personal perspective. As for refueling. Its a bit far off for that. However what we need is a garage in orbit. One with tanks of fuel, little robot tugs, and a few mechanics. Could we use the sun's magnetic field and the solar wind etc to orientate our spacecraft? To me it seems like a lot of expensive hardware gets junked just because the tank is empty. I know one thing I'd like to do. Send a robot tanker to the graveyard orbit and fix and refuel the satellites in that.
Comment icon #6 Posted by AllPossible on 5 November, 2018, 11:50
Dawn of the Dead 
Comment icon #7 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 5 November, 2018, 13:39
NASA, DARPA and some private companies are working on ways to refuel spacecraft. However it's not an easy task especially with satellites that weren't designed for it. The specific answer with Kepler is almost certainly no. Because it has run out of fuel it can no longer orientate itself, so it can't point its solar panels at the sun. With no electrical power it will not be able to regulate its temperature and so the electronics will be frozen and/or over heated. Even if it could be refueled would it be worth it? It is old and partly crippled. Two of it's four reaction wheels had failed by 201... [More]
Comment icon #8 Posted by seanjo on 5 November, 2018, 17:08
It's just something I thought about when I read this story.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 5 November, 2018, 17:33
It's a good thought.
Comment icon #10 Posted by MyOtherAccount on 14 November, 2018, 5:32
Yeah and it seems like such a waste!  If a probe is nearly out of fuel, it is too bad we can't put it in a trajectory that will sling it to another target we might not know anything about. I could be somewhere closer to the sun so that the system can stay charged up. That would stretch the dollar a bit more. Once it is in space the really expensive part has been done. Hey, maybe in the sling it could approach the each to be refitted or such. Just a fun thought... 
Comment icon #11 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 14 November, 2018, 11:51
How do you do that when it's nearly out of fuel? The entire point of being out of fuel is that you can't send it anywhere. Even if you could use some magical system to send it somewhere else, when it arrives, if it has no fuel, it can't point and do science. Basically what you are suggesting would take a spacecraft that is nearly dead and kill it quicker.
Comment icon #12 Posted by MyOtherAccount on 15 November, 2018, 3:46
Okay... If the probe is going to be inoperable when it runs out of fuel, it is too bad that plans weren't made--when at the drawing board--so that when there is just enough fuel left it could be sent by slingshot to another location or to orbit the earth for a planned intercept and refueling, or to disassemble for the instruments to be put on the moon or mars station. A note: See my discourse (a blog entry under the alias of "Encouraged" on this site) on the degrees of ambiguity in language; as in precise wording (Boolean), ideally ambiguous (English), and too ambiguous (Tok Pision). Without e... [More]
Comment icon #13 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 15 November, 2018, 10:25
It would take a HUGE amount of fuel to send the spacecraft back to Earth, fuel it didn't have. No spacecraft has ever been refuelled in space, it is a technology still in it's infancy with experiments ongoing. Dawn was launched 11 years ago. I'm not sure you are grasping the implications of being low on fuel in deep space, you can't just drive to the nearest garage and fill up. Dawn took 4 years to reach the asteroid belt... and it need a fly-by of Mars to make it that quickly. It took it 2½ years to get from Vesta to Ceres. So basically what you are suggesting is to use fuel an ageing spacecr... [More]


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