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November 12, 2012
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. -- In Astrotech's Hazardous Processing Facility, a technician monitors the loading of xenon for the ion propulsion system in the Dawn spacecraft. Dawn's mission is to explore two of the asteroid belt's most intriguing and dissimilar occupants: asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres. The Dawn spacecraft uses ion propulsion to get the additional velocity needed to reach Vesta once it leaves the Delta rocket. It also uses ion propulsion to spiral to lower altitudes on Vesta, to leave Vesta and cruise to Ceres and to spiral to a low-altitude orbit at Ceres. Ion propulsion makes efficient use of the onboard fuel by accelerating it to a velocity 10 times that of chemical rockets. Dawn is scheduled to launch July 7aboard a Delta II rocket from Launch Complex 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

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