Next weekend (on 16 July), barring any further unforeseen problems, Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft will enter orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta and begin its year-long observation of the 530km wide proto-planet. [Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA]
From the JPL press release (23 June)
After Dawn enters Vesta’s orbit, engineers will need a few days to determine the exact time of capture. Unlike other missions where a dramatic, nail-biting propulsive burn results in orbit insertion around a planet, Dawn has been using its placid ion propulsion system to subtly shape its path for years to match Vesta’s orbit around the sun.
Images from Dawn’s framing camera, taken for navigation purposes, show the slow progress toward Vesta. They also show Vesta rotating about 65 degrees in the field of view. The images are about twice as sharp as the best images of Vesta from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, but the surface details Dawn will obtain are still a mystery.
“Navigation images from Dawn’s framing camera have given us intriguing hints of Vesta, but we’re looking forward to the heart of Vesta operations, when we begin officially collecting science data,” said Christopher Russell, Dawn principal investigator, at UCLA. “We can’t wait for Dawn to peel back the layers of time and reveal the early history of our solar system.”
Its already getting a good view of the terrain ahead. [Video credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/PSI and NASA/ESA/STScI/UMd].
More Dawn related videos and interviews here.