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IRON AND ICE
Dawn Opens Its Eyes, Checks Its Instruments
by Staff Writers
Pasadena CA (SPX) Mar 22, 2011


NASA's Dawn spacecraft, illustrated in this artist's concept, is propelled by ion engines. Image credit: NASA/JPL.

After a hibernation of about six months, the framing cameras on board NASA's Dawn spacecraft have again ventured a look into the stars. The spacecraft also powered up its visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, which investigates surface mineralogy, and the gamma ray and neutron detector, which detects elemental composition. The reactivation prepares the instruments for the May approach and July arrival at Vesta, Dawn's first port of call in the asteroid belt.

"Last week, we gently 'woke up' Dawn's three science instruments, which typically spend most of their time sleeping during the three-and-a-half-year journey to Vesta," said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"This activity confirms that Dawn is on track for the first close examination of one of the last unexplored worlds of the inner solar system."

The framing camera activities were led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany.

"The camera system is working flawlessly. The dry run was a complete success," said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera, based at the Institute.

The international team of Dawn scientists and engineers in Germany and the United States spent three days interacting with the camera system, confirming the excellent health of the mechanical and electrical components and updating the software.

In the months to come, the camera system will provide images needed to navigate the spacecraft to its rendezvous with Vesta, and will begin to image the asteroid's surface.

These early images on approach will be the start of a campaign to systematically map Vesta's surface in detail and will provide tantalizing clues as to its mineralogical composition. In addition, the framing cameras will search for moons in Vesta's vicinity and look for evidence of past volcanic activity.

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Related Links
NASA Dawn
Asteroid and Comet Mission News, Science and Technology






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IRON AND ICE
Vesta - An Asteroid In 3D
Bonn, Germany (SPX) Mar 14, 2011
What might asteroid Vesta look like? In a new animation, researchers at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) have recreated the asteroid in 3D. In the animation, the asteroid is irregularly shaped, has a slight indentation at its South Pole and numerous impact craters. In July 2011, after a four year journey, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will reach the ast ... read more


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