NASA’s Dawn Spirals Down to Lowest Orbit


Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft successfully maneuvered into its closest orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta today, beginning a new phase of science observations. The spacecraft is now circling Vesta at an altitude averaging about 130 miles (210 kilometers) in the phase of the mission known as low altitude mapping orbit.

“Dawn has performed some complicated and beautiful choreography in order to reach this lowest orbit,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn chief engineer and mission manager based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We are in an excellent position to learn much more about the secrets of Vesta’s surface and interior.”

Launched in 2007, Dawn has been in orbit around Vesta, the second most massive object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, since July 15. The team plans to acquire data in the low orbit for at least 10 weeks.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2011-384

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