Dawn is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The University of California, Los Angeles, is responsible for overall Dawn mission science.
The space probe’s two destinations are the protoplanet Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres that circle the Sun within the so-called aseroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research has contributed the mission’s on borard camera system. The two identical cameras were developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research with significant contributions by the Institute for Planetary Research of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering of the Technical University Braunschweig.
But the Dawn mission, that was launched in September 2007 is far more than a journey to two distant bodies. It is a journey back in time to the beginnings of our solar system more than 4,5 billion years ago. Vesta and Ceres are among the largest survivors from this early phase of planet formation. All other larger bodies either merged to form planets or broke apart due to heavy collisions. The internal structure and the surfaces of Vesta and Ceres, however, have remained mostly unchanged. They therefore offer scientists the opportunity to take look back into time.
On 27. September 2007 the space probe started on its long journey.
It arrived at its first scientific destination, the protoplanet Vesta, on 16. July 2011. In the following 13 months, Dawn entered into orbits that were closer and closer to Vesta’s surface. Between December 2011 and May 2012, only 210 kilometers separated both.
Dawn will arrive at Ceres in early 2015. A beneficial constellation of both bodies allows for this relatively short travelling time. During the following months, Dawn will approach Ceres’ surface up to a distance of approximately 700 kilometers.
In order to save fuel on its way to the asteroid belt, Dawn flew closely by Mars in February 2009. Such a maneuver allows the spacecraft to pick up momentum. In addition, the swing-by was a welcome opportunity to test the scientific instruments on a relatively close target. The cameras onboard obtained detailed images of Mars’ surface during fly-by.
27. September 2007: launch
18. February 2009: Mars Flyby
16. July 2011: arrival at Vesta
5. September 2012: departure from Vesta
February 2015: arrival at Ceres
July 2015: departure from Ceres
Dawn carries three scientific instruments on board: The Camera system FC, the detector for gamma-radiation and neutrons GRaND, and the spectrograph VIR.
GRaND was built by the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico (USA) and is operated by the Planetary Science Institute, Tucscon, Arizona.
The VIR spectrograph studies the visible and infrared solar radiation that the asteroids reflect into space. This data contains information about the mineralogical composition. VIR was provided by the Italian space agency ASI and developed and built by Galileo Avionica.
In addition, Vesta’s gravity field will be determined using high-accuracy navigation to reveal the structure of Vesta’s interior.
The targets of the Dawn mission could not be more different: While Vesta once had a hot, molten interior that produced lava flows, Ceres has always been a cold body, under whose surface possibly frozen water can be found. In addition, both bodies allow for a look back into an early phase of our solar system. Both asteroids are among the largest survivors from this early phase of planet formation. more...
Dawn is a NASA mission managed by the Jet Propulaion Laboratory (JPL) that will reach the asteroids Vesta and Ceres within the next years. The space probe will encounter its first destination, the asteroid Vesta, in the summer of 2011. Presumably at the end of July, Dawn will start orbiting Vesta and deliver its first high-resolution images of the surface. more...
The mission's success crucially depends on the two cameras, Dawn's eyes. The cameras were developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research with significant contributions by the Institute for Planetary Research of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering of the Technical University Braunschweig. more...