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Dawn, NASA Spacecraft to Asteroids Vesta and Ceres

Dawn is a NASA spacecraft sent to the two largest main belt asteroids, Vesta and Dawn. European partners contributed to the probe. The propulsion system is ion drive.

The Dawn mission was actually canceled in 2003, and over the next few years wavered between postponement and cancellation, until the builder of the probe, Orbital Sciences Corporation, offered to build it at cost in order to gain experience. The project was resumed, though the total cost of the project incurred a cost overrun and is expected to cost approximately $ 450 million.

Dawn launched in 2007 and arrived at Vesta in 2011, entering orbit in July, and spiraling down to its low altitude operating orbit of 210 km by December. It will leave Vesta in August 2012 and arrive at Ceres in February 2015.

These asteroids are not of interest for retrieving material to Earth orbit due to their distance, and they are probably not very similar to near Earth asteroids due to their large, protoplanetary nature.

External links:

Dawn, NASA JPL mission page

Dawn spacecraft on wikipedia

Dawn, NASA mission page > Asteroids, Near Earth Objects (NEO) > Probes to Asteroids and NEOs > Dawn to MBA Vesta, Ceres

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