By Marc Rayman
As NASA’s Dawn spacecraft makes its journey to its second target, the dwarf planet Ceres, Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer, shares a monthly update on the mission’s progress.
This artist’s concept of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft shows the craft orbiting high above Ceres, where the craft will arrive in early 2015 to begin science investigations. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech› Larger image
Dear Ardawnt Readers,
Continuing its daring mission to explore some of the last uncharted worlds in the inner solar system, Dawn remains on course and on schedule for its rendezvous with dwarf planet Ceres next year. Silently and patiently streaking through the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the ardent adventurer is gradually reshaping its orbit around the Sun with its uniquely efficient ion propulsion system. Vesta, the giant protoplanet it unveiled during its spectacular expedition there in 2011-2012, grows ever more distant.
In December, and January, we saw Dawn’s plans for the “approach phase” to Ceres and how it will slip gracefully into orbit under the gentle control of its ion engine. Entering orbit, gratifying and historic though it will be, is only a means to an end. The reason for orbiting its destinations is to ...