Space Exploration - Asteroids ] Back | Next >
Space exploration - Dawn spacecraft approaching Ceres; Dawn space probe; ion drive; NSTAR ion engine; Dwarf Planet Ceres; plumes, asteroid belt; main belt; small Solar System body - Space Art Illustration

Dawn approaches Ceres

On 6 March 2015 the unmanned Dawn spacecraft went into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. The 65 foot long, 2.5 ton probe was launched from the Earth in 2007, passed Mars in 2009, and went into orbit around the protoplanet Vesta in July 2011 where it stayed until September 2012. Dawn currently remains in orbit around Ceres.

In this image Dawn's three xenon electrostatic ion thrusters can be seen emitting ionized xenon's characteristic blue/magenta glow, gently propelling the probe toward Ceres. While the ion engines have relatively low specific thrust (about equal to the weight of a few sheets of paper), they can operate continuously for long periods making efficient use of the approximately 1,000 pounds of xenon propellant onboard. The wing-like solar arrays produce about 1,300 watts for probe's propulsion and other electrical systems.

This illustration, created prior to Dawn's reconnaissance of Ceres, imagines Ceres as appearing similar to the Earth's Moon, heavily cratered with the addition of surface water ice and hypothesized plumes of ice crystals from water geysers on its surface.


Copyright Walter B. Myers. All rights reserved.

Terms of use

Home | What's New | The Graphics | Information | Site Map |  ]