NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Runs Out Of Fuel After Exploring Asteroid Belt

It has been a week full of goodbyes at NASA. After retiring Kepler, the space agency announced that Dawn, the asteroid-hopping spacecraft, has gone silent.

Dawn Follows Kepler Into Silence

The news came on Thursday, Nov. 1, after the spacecraft had failed to phone home in the past week to deliver data. It was scheduled to communicate with the Deep Space Network on Wednesday, Oct. 31, and then Thursday, but missed both sessions.

Dawn’s silence does not come as a surprise. Like Kepler. The spacecraft has been in danger of running out of fuel in the past couple of months. The 11-year-old spacecraft has no more energy to point its antennae to Earth to communicate or turn its solar panels toward the sun to recharge.

“Today, we celebrate the end of our Dawn mission — its incredible technical achievements, the vital science it gave us, and the entire team who enabled the spacecraft to make these discoveries,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a statement on Thursday.

“The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system.”

Dawn is currently in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres about 243 million miles away from the sun.

Dawn’s Legacy

Dawn was launched back in 2007 with a goal of visiting the two largest objects within the main asteroid belt of the solar system: Vesta and Ceres.

In 2011, it arrived at Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt that is almost twice the size of California. Based on the data from the Dawn mission, scientists were also able to confirm that Vesta is the parent object the of howardite-eucrite-diogenite meteorites found on Earth.

Meanwhile, the spacecraft arrived at Ceres in 2015 where it has been orbiting since. At the time, Dawn revealed remnants of a frozen ocean and a massive volcano dubbed Ahuna Mons.

Dawn has registered about 6.9 billion miles on its odometer. NASA said that the spacecraft will continue to be in orbit around Ceres for at least 50 years.

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