NASA’s Dawn spacecraft currently orbiting the asteroid/protoplanet Vesta suffered malfunction of a reaction wheel that helps to maintain the spacecraft’s position in space. Mission specialists have created a software patch to keep the spacecraft on mission, but have not had to deploy the software yet.
Controllers say it will not affect Dawn’s planed mission to Ceres, the largest asteroid in the solar system.
Dawn is preparing for its departure from Vesta, after spending more than a year studying the asteroid. The spacecraft completed its science objectives at Vesta on July 24. Since then, Dawn has been using its ion thrusters to gradually spiral away from the space rock.
“The ion propulsion system, while very efficient, is also very gentle,” Rayman explained. “It only gradually climbs away from Vesta, spiraling in ever larger loops until the spacecraft is going fast enough and is far away enough from Vesta that Vesta can no longer hold it in its gravitational drift.” If you would like to know how much thrust the ion engines produce, pick up a piece of paper with one hand and move it upwards. That is it. However, Dawn can maintain that thrust for a very long time.
Unfortunately the website that shows Dawns current position is on vacation. 😦 I’ll update this post once the position is known.
Dawn was originally scheduled to leave Vesta on Aug. 26, but is now expected to depart from Vesta on Sept. 5. Ceres, which is as wide as Texas, is the largest space rock in the asteroid belt. In fact, Ceres is so large it is classified as a dwarf planet.
Dawn is expected to arrive at Ceres in February 2015, but mission scientists are already excited about what the probe may uncover once it arrives.
“No spacecraft has gone to the vicinity of the dwarf planet Ceres, so we’re very excited about it,” Rayman said. “To me, the real story here is how cool it is that we’re exploring what, in my view, are some of the last uncharted worlds in the inner solar system. Most people think of asteroids as chips of rock, but these are whole new worlds.”
To assist the Dawn mission, my friends at the Center for Solar System Science (CS3) have been providing updated light curve data for Dawn’s next visit Ceres. With this information, Dawn’s mission specialists will have an easier time getting into orbit.
If you have a software that needs protection, or know someone that can use my help, please contact me for a free 30 minute consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org or call TOLL FREE at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327) and ask for Norman.
– Ex astris, scientia –