Dawn spacecraft is on track to become the first probe to orbit and study two distant solar system destinations. The spacecraft is scheduled to leave the giant asteroid Vesta on Sept. 4 to start its two-and-a-half-year journey to the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn began its 3-billion-mile (5-billion kilometer) odyssey to explore the two most massive objects in the main asteroid belt in 2007.
Dawn spacecraft will spiral away from Vesta using a special, hyper-efficient system called ion propulsion. Dawn’s ion propulsion system uses electricity to ionize xenon to generate thrust. The 12-inch-wide ion thrusters provide less power than conventional engines, but can maintain thrust for months at a time.
Featured image: NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrived at the giant asteroid Vesta on July 15,2011 and is set to depart on Sept. 4, 2012 (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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