Dawn is a NASA spacecraft tasked with the exploration and study of the two largest members of the asteroid belt: Vesta and the dwarf planet, Ceres. This video (below) features images taken by Dawn as well as animated recreations of Vesta’s most focal geological formations. Credit NASA
Images credit NASA
The spacecraft was constructed with some European cooperation, with components contributed by partners in Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. The Dawn mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Dawn may be the first spacecraft to orbit two separate extraterrestrial bodies, using ion drive to travel between its targets. Previous multi-target missions using conventional drives, such as the Voyager program, were restricted to flybys.
Launched on September 27, 2007, Dawn reached Vesta on July 16, 2011, and will orbit and explore it until August 26, 2012. Thereafter, the spacecraft will head to Ceres, which it is scheduled to reach in February 2015. It will be the first spacecraft to visit either body. Dawn is NASA’s first purely exploratory mission to use ion propulsion.
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