Dawn set to move to its third mapping orbit
Having already provided us with numerous insights into the nature of the dwarf planet Ceres, NASA's Dawn spacecraft is ready to move into a new, lower mapping orbit, which will provide the most detailed views so far.
Since arriving at Cereson March 6, the intrepid probe has provided an abundance of stunningimages of the planet's surface, zooming in on themysterious white spots which had baffled scientists during thespacecraft's approach.
However, the mission todate has not gone without incident. June 30 saw the robotic explorersuffer an orientation anomaly due to a glitch in one of thespacecraft's gimbal systems, a vital element of the probe taskedwith manipulating one of its three ion thrusters. Due to the error,Dawn was forced into a safe mode, however the problem has since beenresolved by switching the spacecraft to ion engine #2.
The next five weekswill see Dawn transition to its third mapping orbit, which will takeit as close as 900 miles (1,448 km) from the planet's surface. Fromits new position, Dawn will use its advanced suite of scientificinstruments to unlock more of Ceres' secrets, prior to moving to itsfinal low altitude mapping orbit (LAMO).
LAMO is expected to bethe final stage of the probe's journey, after which its hydrazinefuel supply will run out, rendering the spacecraft unable toorientate its solar panels towards the Sun. Once unable to manipulateits orientation, the onboard batteries will fail in a matter ofhours.
It is expected thatroughly 50 years after Dawn ceases to function, the spacecraft'sorbit will finally decay enough for Dawn to impact on the surface ofCeres.
Source: NASA JetPropulsion Laboratory