Off for spacecraft Dawn

The only probe in the asteroid belt is finally silenced

The NASA spacecraft Dawn is the first man-made vessel in the asteroid belt - but now it runs out of fuel. NASA
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It's over: After more than eleven years in space, the space probe Dawn has finally run out of fuel. The communication to the first probe in the asteroid belt has been demolished, as reported by NASA. This completes the operational dawn mission. However, the data collected by the spacecraft on the dwarf planet Ceres and the asteroid Vesta will continue to occupy researchers for years to come.

Its end was in sight: Since 2011, the NASA space probe Dawn explores the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. In the course of her mission, she has provided new and unique insights into the celestial bodies orbiting there - relics from the early days of our solar system, which are particularly exciting for planetary scientists. Already in September, however, the US space agency announced that the probe will run out of gas in the foreseeable future. This day seems to have come now.

As NASA announces, Dawn has missed two planned communication windows. Accordingly, the signal transmissions on 31 October and on 1 November did not come about. Because all other reasons could be ruled out, the agency now assumes that Dawn finally has no hydrazine left. This fuel is needed by the probe to align itself with the earth for data transmission.

A last look at the mountain Ahuna Mons on Ceres: The picture was taken on September 1 from a distance of 3, 570 kilometers. © NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

End of the Dawn mission

"Today we celebrate the dawn of the Dawn mission - its incredible technical achievements, the important scientific insights it has given us, and the entire team that made these discoveries possible, " said NASA Science Director Thomas Zurbuchen. "Mission Dawn has not only fundamentally changed our image of the asteroid belt. It has also been invaluable in understanding how the solar system as a whole emerged and where living conditions could develop, "commented Andreas Nathues of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, who helped develop the Dawn camera system.

With this camera system, Dawn has taken tens of thousands of pictures of the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres - images that will keep scientists busy for a long time after the probe has been taken out: it will be years before they have evaluated all these images. display

For decades in orbit

The spacecraft itself will continue to remain in the asteroid belt - "parked" on a stable orbit around Ceres. The water-rich dwarf planet will continue to be of great interest to researchers who are concerned with the necessary conditions for the emergence of life. A dive or landing on Ceres, such as the Cassini and Rosetta missions, was out of the question. Because this could contaminate the dwarf planet with terrestrial microbes.

Instead, Dawn will maintain its current orbit. This is possible because the dwarf planet has no atmosphere that could slow down the probe. It can thus keep its momentum without any drive and remain in orbit without sinking. For at least 20 years, she will succeed, according to NASA. With a probability of more than 99 percent, the spacecraft could even remain on its last trajectory for more than 50 years.

(NASA / Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, 02.11.2018 - DAL)