The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is extending Dawn’s mission over planet Ceres for the second time which is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Mission planners want to bring the spacecraft even closer to the surface. The Dawn spacecraft will descend to lower altitudes than ever before at dwarf planet. It has been orbiting since March 2015. The Dawn spacecraft reached the end of its primary mission over Ceres in June 2016. It has already completed ten years of spaceflight and will continue at Ceres for the remainder of its science investigation and will remain in a stable orbit indefinitely after its fuel runs out. The prime mission of dawn was completed in June 2016 and the first extension was also approved after that.
Since then, the spacecraft has remained in orbit around the dwarf planet continuing monitoring the surface. In 2015 when dawn arrived the surface of the planet Ceres, it provided scientists with an unprecedented look at the asteroid belt’s largest object which revealed new features which turn out to be made of salt, an active surface, and even organic compounds. In this new mission, Dawn’s flight team is looking into ways to bring the probe into a new orbit around Ceres. The visible-light images of Ceres’ surface geology will be taken by the camera of the spacecraft along with the measurements of Ceres’ mineralogy with its visible and infrared mapping spectrometer. The data will be collected with Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron spectrometer, which measures number and energy of gamma rays and neutrons. The information obtained will help in understanding composition of Ceres’ uppermost layer and presence of ice it contains. The extended mission also aims at allowing dawn to be in the orbit of Ceres when its closest approach to the Sun, which will occur in April 2018 and a commitment to protect Ceres from Earthly contamination is also made and thus special care has been taken for the fact that Dawn will not land or crash into Ceres rather it will carry out as much science as it can in its final planned orbit, where it will stay even after it can no longer communicate with Earth.