Article image NASA's Dawn asteroid mission ends as fuel runs out

This artist's concept shows NASA's unmanned Dawn spacecraft- which has traveled 4.3 billion miles since it launched in 2007- arriving at the dwarf planet Ceres

Another NASA spacecraft runs out of steam, 2nd this week

NASA has announced that after its launch 11 years ago, the agency's Dawn spacecraft has finally run out of fuel.

That lack of maneuverability ends the spacecraft's mission, as expected.

The Dawn orbiter has been flying around the dwarf planet Ceres for some time now.

"To within our current uncertainty, there's zero usable hydrazine remaining", said Marc Rayman, chief engineer and mission director for Dawn at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, during a presentation October 4 at the International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt, followed by Vesta.

Then it moved on to the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015, becoming the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet and the only spacecraft to orbit one, NASA said.

Propelled by three ion engines, the 11-year-old Dawn was the first spacecraft to orbit an object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and also the first to orbit two places beyond Earth.

NASA said that the data collect by the spacecraft was invaluable for researchers examining the history of the solar system. Observations of Ceres in particular indicated that it might once had, and could still have today, a subsurface ocean of liquid water.

It is expected to remain in orbit around Ceres for decades, but will no longer be able to communicate with Earth.

"The demands we put on Dawn were tremendous, but it met the challenge every time", Rayman said in the statement. NASA said that there is a more than 99 percent chance the spacecraft will remain in orbit for at least 50 years.

"The fact that my car's license plate frame proclaims, 'My other vehicle is in the main asteroid belt, ' shows how much pride I take in Dawn", said mission director and chief engineer Marc Rayman at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It carried humankind on a truly fantastic deep space adventure with stunning discoveries". Both spacecraft ended their missions because they ran out of hydrazine fuel needed for attitude control, and both had suffered failures of reaction control wheels earlier in their missions that made them rely on their thrusters more than originally planned.

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