Friday, March 6 saw the Dawn probe arriving at Ceres; the event made it is the first spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet. Additionally, Dawn also became the first of its kind to circle two entities beyond the Earth and moon.
Dawn has already completed a lot of jobs that no other spacecraft has done it; however, it will still need to do a lot of traveling. Reports are suggesting that this special NASA spacecraft will be on the move for six more weeks. It will need these six weeks for reaching a position for starting the process of making different science observations.
In a blog post published last Friday, the mission director of Dawn Marc Rayman wrote that currently Dawn is busy reshaping its orbit surrounding the dwarf planet. For those who don’t know: Rayman operates from the space agency’s Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Rayman added that the orbital acrobatics of Dawn will first take it to a height of 75,000 kilometers or 47,000 miles. This initial step will be completed on March 19, after which, on April 23, the spacecraft will descend to 13,500 km or 8,400 miles. At this stage, it will initiate its observations. Here, it must be mentioned that Dawn was first captured by Ceres’ gravity when it was 60,000 km or 37,700 miles from the dwarf planet.
The current trek of the spacecraft is so slow primarily because the probe is known for using hyper-efficient, low-thrust ion engines instead of using a system running on conventional chemical-propulsion.
To help people understand the intensity of the thrust produced by the ion engine, Rayman said that the engine pushes the spacecraft only with a force that is equivalent to the force a single piece of paper exerts on someone’s hand.
This statement from Rayman made it clear that the world will need to wait for some more time for getting the first notable Ceres fix. Another significant info offered by the mission director is that right now Dawn is on Ceres’ dark side; as a result, it won’t be able to send any new image of the dwarf planet to Earth before April 10.
NASA launched its Dawn mission more than seven years back, in September, 2007 to be more precise, for studying Ceres and Vesta. Both these entities are located in the asteroid belt separating Jupiter and Mars.