Communication glitch delays Dawn's science mission at Ceres

Delay will not affect spacecraft's overall mission.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Apr 27, 2015
NASA's Dawn spacecraft, now in orbit around Ceres, had to delay the start of its science mission observing the small planet on Friday, April 24, when a communication glitch put the spacecraft into safe mode.

With a command from ground control, Dawn was supposed to begin its science mission on Friday morning. When that command was not received, the spacecraft automatically went into safe mode, a state in which all activities other than communications with Earth are suspended.

Mission chief engineer Mark Rayman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory referred to the communication glitch as nothing more than an "inconvenience," emphasizing it will not affect Dawn's science mission to the dwarf planet.

Dawn already captured images of Ceres as it closed in on the small world and entered its orbit on March 6.

The science mission delay lasted only a few hours and was officially underway Friday night.

Launched in 2007, Dawn first orbited and observed Vesta, the second largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and discovered it to be layered into core, mantle, and crust, like the larger terrestrial planets.

The spacecraft, which uses ion propulsion engines, left Vesta in September 2012 after spending a little over a year orbiting it.

Last Thursday, it moved into an orbital position 8,400 miles above the small planet's surface. From that position, its instruments will photograph and study Ceres's surface.

Two bright spots in a crater on that surface have fascinated observers. Scientists hope to obtain a better view of these in order to identify them.

After orbiting at its current altitude for several weeks, Dawn will spiral even closer to Ceres, into a position where its instruments can conduct more detailed observations and analyses.

Geysers of water vapor were first detected on Ceres a year ago by the Herschel infrared space observatory. Some scientists speculate the dwarf planet harbors a sub-surface ocean and may hold a tenuous atmosphere.





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