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NASA spaceship Dawn moves toward major asteroid in solar system

NASA spaceship Dawn moves toward major asteroid in solar system

FRANCE: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has reached its official approach towards the largest asteroid in our solar system.
First discovered by astronomers in 1801, Ceres is a dwarf planet, the largest body in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, with roughly the same surface area as Western Australia.
Very little is known about the composition and surface characteristics of the dwarf planet, and the arrival of the Dawn spacecraft will likely deliver a wealth of knowledge for scientists and astronomers back on Earth.
It is hoped that the Dawn probe will confirm the presence of frozen water ice on its surface and the possibility of a sub-surface ocean, as well as make several new discoveries while in orbit.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is one of the most ambitious attempts at remote exploration since the Pioneer and Voyager probes launched in the 1970s.
Launched in 2007, the probe is equipped with a unique ion propulsion system, as opposed to traditional chemical rockets used on the majority of other spacecraft.
Ion propulsion is a slow but incredibly efficient method of travel that was used on the Dawn spacecraft on its mission through deep space.
Ion thrusters are able to accelerate electrically charged atoms using electrical power (provided by solar panels or nuclear power), creating a small amount of thrust with high efficiency.
In 2011, Dawn encountered the first target of its mission – Vesta, the second largest body in the asteroid belt.
After spending fourteen months in orbit, Dawn then accelerated towards its second target – Ceres – and will soon become the first spacecraft to orbit two extra-terrestrial bodies in the one mission.
“Orbiting both Vesta and Ceres would be truly impossible with conventional propulsion” said Chief Engineer and Mission Director Marc Rayman.
The ability to orbit and explore two separate worlds in the same mission has long been a science fiction staple; however upon arrival at Ceres, NASA will have demonstrated the feasibility of this model for future robotic missions.The Dawn spacecraft is expected to enter orbit around the dwarf planet in March 2015.