DAWN mission back on

by Chris Bergin

NASA has officially reinstated the DAWN mission, confirming an earlier report on NASAWatch.com, with the mission being saved from a previous cancellation.

The DAWN mission will investigate the properties of two of the largest asteroids in the solar system, orbiting Vesta and Ceres, collecting data that will help evaluations on how the early solar system formed.

NASA senior management announced the decision, following a cancellation based on ‘technical problems and cost overruns’. Earlier, a report on NASAWatch report noted the mission was back on.

The mission originally was approved in December 2001 and was set for launch in June 2006. Technical problems and other difficulties delayed the projected launch date to July 2007 and pushed the cost from its original estimate of $373 million to $446 million.

The decision to cancel Dawn was made March 2, 2006, after about $257 million already had been spent. An additional expenditure of about $14 million would have been required to terminate the project.

The celestial bodies, called ‘protoplanets’, are located between Mars and Jupiter in the extensive asteroid belt. However, both are very different by way of their evolutionary path.

The DAWN Spacecraft – which will use electric ion propulsion system – will orbit each of the asteroids, collecting data and beaming it back to Earth for scientists to pour over.

Such is their size, NASA believes they will be able to image mountains, canyons, craters, lava flows, polar caps and, possibly ancient lakebeds, streambeds and gullies on the asteroids.

According to the NASA release confirming the decision to reinstate the mission, NASA Associate Administrator Rex Geveden claimed the review board – which he chaired – made progress on ‘technical issues’, thus allowing the mission to be brought back to life.

‘We revisited a number of technical and financial challenges and the work being done to address them,’ said Geveden.

‘Our review determined the project team has made substantive progress on many of this mission’s technical issues, and, in the end, we have confidence the mission will succeed.’

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