Video courtesy of NASA
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft left the massive asteroid Vesta for its next destination – the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn is unique in that it can break orbit from one celestial body and head to another destination. Dawn left Vesta on Sept. 5 at 2:26 a.m. EDT.
“As we respectfully say goodbye to Vesta and reflect on the amazing discoveries over the past year, we eagerly look forward to the next phase of our adventure at Ceres, where even more exciting discoveries await,” said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Dawn will not reach Ceres until 2015. The ion propulsion system which drives the spacecraft is slow and steady compared to conventional chemical rockets. However, the Ion engine can run for far longer compared to regular rockets and thus allows Dawn to accomplish feats other spacecraft are incapable of.
Dawn was launch in September of 2007 and entered orbit around Vesta in July of last year. The spacecraft then went about compiling a detailed map of the asteroid’s surface. This mission has served to both prove out unique space flight technologies but to explore uncharted regions of the solar system as well.