While I personally lament the closing of the space shuttle program I revel in the fact that there are still some really cool things that NASA is doing when it comes to space exploration.
For those of you that may have forgotten back in 2007 a spacecraft was launched with the intent to intercept and orbit our solar system’s second largest asteroid.
Well it’s been four years and a lot of space miles but NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is about to reach its objective called Vesta, some 117 million miles from earth.
“It has taken nearly four years to get to this point,” said Dawn project manager Robert Mase of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in a press release. “Our latest tests and check-outs show that Dawn is right on target and performing normally.”
Dawn navigated toward the asteroid belt, a space rock-rich zone between the solar system’s inner and outer planets, using gravitational energy from Mars and by firing its ion-powered thrusters. Its arrival at Vesta is expected at 1:00am EDT on July 16.
It will take 10 minutes and 30 seconds—the time it takes light from Vesta to reach Earth—for engineers to know if the operation succeeded.
Once in orbit, Dawn will hover about 9,900 miles above the asteroid’s surface for a year and use two different cameras, a gamma-ray detector and a neutron detector, to study the object. Next July, Dawn’s ion thrusters will fire up and slowly propel the spacecraft toward the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the Asteroid Belt.
via Ars Technica