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10-Apr-07 | Dawn arrives in Florida

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrived today at the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida, where it will undergo final preparations for launch. The launch period opens on 30 June. Its launch vehicle, a three-stage Delta II Heavy, will begin stacking at SLC-17B in late May. (NASA KSC Press Release, 10-Apr-07)

Dawn will investigate two of the largest denizens of the Asteroid Belt, Ceres and Vesta, during a mission lasting eight years. The project is back on track after having been cancelled—and then, in an unprecedented move, reinstated—in March 2006. Among Dawn’s JPL handlers is Dr. Marc Rayman, who previously led the project team for the highly successful Deep Space 1 (launched on Delta 261 on 24-Oct-98).

25-Sep-01 | Deep Space 1 gets up close and personal… with a comet

On Saturday, 22 September, Deep Space 1 became the second spacecraft ever to capture close-up images of a comet. DS-1 passed within 1,200 nautical miles of comet Borrelly at a relative speed of about 37,000 mph. The encounter occurred at 22:30 UTC, with the first data reaching Earth about 13 minutes later.

Amazingly, not only did the unshielded spacecraft survive the potential impacts of cometary dust as it passed through the coma — a mission for which it was never designed — it significantly expanded the state of comet observation. With perfect aim and using all four of its advanced technology (i.e. experimental) instruments, DS-1 captured the most detailed black-and-white photos yet of a comet’s nucleus; that same camera package (MICAS) carries an infrared imaging spectrometer. PEPE (Plasma Experiment for Planetary Exploration) collected ion and electron data from the coma and observed its interaction with the solar wind. Measurements of the magnetic field were also taken. Much of the data will continue to be downloaded over the next few days.

The preliminary results — showing a complex, elongated nucleus spouting asymmetric jets while not travelling at the center of its own coma — appear to have comet scientists perplexed, who apparently were expecting a neatly packed schoolyard snowball. The data from Deep Space 1 will beneficially influence several future comet rendezvous missions, including CONTOUR and Deep Impact, both of which will be launched on Delta II vehicles.

DS-1, which launched aboard Delta 261 on 24 October 1998, has already tripled its design lifetime and long ago successfully completed its primary mission of testing a dozen advanced technologies including a xenon ion engine and autonomous navigation system; in 1999 it survived the loss of its (off the shelf, non-experimental) star tracker thanks to the tireless efforts of the project team led by Marc Rayman. Saturday’s fly-by was considered little more than the stem on the cherry on top of the banana split that was an already-stellar mission; the fact that it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams is a testament both to the robustness of the hardware and the hard work of the team.

06-Jul-00 | DS-1 restarts engine after rescue succeeds

Way cool! Deep Space 1 (Delta 261) has restarted its ion engine for the first time since the loss of its star tracker, following a significant rescue mission. Program manager Dr. Marc Rayman’s giddy mission log has the full story.



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