Despite delays and near cancellation, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is now on the launch pad, all ready to begin its mission to two of the largest asteroids in the Solar System. If all goes well, Dawn will blast off as early as September 26th from Cape Canaveral aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket. Next stop, Asteroid Vesta.
The Dawn spacecraft, fixed atop its Boeing Delta II launcher made the 25-km journey from Astrotech Space Operations to Pad-17B at Cape Canaveral on Tuesday. Before it launches on September 26th, engineers will perform a final test to simulate the launch – without rocket fuel, of course.
The September 26th launch window opens up at 7:25 am EDT, and stays open for 29 minutes. A similar window is available on following days until its launch period closes entirely on October 15th. It’s got to launch between those dates to have the right trajectory to complete its mission.
Dawn’s mission is to journey to, and orbit two separate asteroids in the Solar System: Ceres and Vesta. No other spacecraft has ever orbited two bodies after it’s left the Earth. Although they’re both asteroids, the two formed under different conditions in the early Solar System. So this single spacecraft will get able to orbit each in turn and study their chemical makeup and take detailed images of their surface.
Original Source: NASA/JPL News Release