June 9, 2009

NASA: Dawn spacecraft on course

The U.S. space agency says its Dawn spacecraft has re-ignited its ion propulsion system, continuing its eight-year mission to explore the asteroid belt.

Mission controllers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said they received a transmission from the Dawn spacecraft confirming the re-ignition. During the eight years Dawn's three ion engines will accumulate 2,000 days of operation.

The spacecraft's mission includes reconnoitering Vesta and Ceres, the asteroid belt's two largest objects.

Dawn is now approximately 185.6 million miles from Earth, NASA said. At that distance, it takes nearly 17 minutes for a radio transmission from the spacecraft to arrive on Earth.