[meteorite-list] Dawn Spacecraft May Visit Third Asteroid After Ceres and Vesta
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon, 25 Apr 2016 17:17:52 -0700 (PDT)
NASA's Dawn probe may visit third asteroid after Ceres and Vesta
By Govert Schilling
April 20, 2016
Some spacecraft just can't sit still. After exploring asteroids Vesta
and Ceres, NASA's Dawn probe may fly off to a third destination.
Dawn was launched in September 2007, orbited Vesta for 14 months in 2011
and 2012, and then flew on to orbit Ceres in March 2015, where it remains
It is the first ever spacecraft to visit two different asteroids, a hop-on,
hop-off tour made possible thanks to Dawn's low-thrust ion drive, which
uses electricity to spit out xenon ions rather than conventional rocket
This summer, Dawn's Ceres mission will officially end. But earlier this
week, principal investigator Chris Russell of the University of California
at Los Angeles and his team sent a proposal to NASA for an extension.
Spacecraft at the end of their life are normally parked in an out-of-the-way
orbit, or crash land on the body they have been studying. That's the
plan for the Rosetta probe, which will touch down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
later this year, but that fate won't be possible for Dawn.
"The spacecraft has not been sterilised, so we aren't allowed to touch
down on the surface of Ceres," says Russell. Strict planetary protection
rules forbid us sending Earth microbes to other worlds. "Instead, we
want to go the other way, away from Ceres, to visit yet another target."
Given the small amount of xenon fuel remaining, the list of potential
destinations is probably not too long, but Russell is keeping it a secret
for now. "As long as the mission extension has not been approved by
NASA, I'm not going to tell you which asteroid we plan to visit,"
he says. "I hope a decision won't take months."
Received on Mon 25 Apr 2016 08:17:52 PM PDT