July 14, 2011

NASA’s Dawn Approaching Asteroid’s Orbit For First Time

NASA said its Dawn probe should go into orbit around the asteroid Vesta on Friday.

The satellite will spend a year at the asteroid before moving on to the "dwarf planet" Ceres.

NASA said Dawn's encounter is taking place at about 117 million miles from Earth.

Engineers believe the spacecraft will be captured into orbit around the asteroid on Friday and will get confirmation from Dawn on Saturday.

NASA said there will be about 9,900 miles between Vesta and Dawn once the spacecraft enters the asteroid's orbit.

"It has taken nearly four years to get to this point," Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "Our latest tests and check-outs show that Dawn is right on target and performing normally."

Dawn was launched in September 2007 and will depart from Vesta to tackle Ceres in July 2012. 

NASA will obtain more accurate measurements of Vesta's mass and gravity once Dawn enters orbit.


Image Caption: NASA's Dawn spacecraft obtained this image of the giant asteroid Vesta with its framing camera on July 9, 2011. It was taken from a distance of about 26,000 miles (41,000 kilometers) away from Vesta, which is also considered a protoplanet because it is a large body that almost became a planet. Each pixel in the image corresponds to roughly 2.4 miles (3.8 kilometers). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA


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