Another day, and another iconic space mission has gone dark.
On Tuesday, NASA announced that its exoplanet-hunting Kepler
Space Telescope had run out of hydrazine fuel, and the craft would
be commanded to cease operations. Now, the Dawn spacecraft at the
dwarf planet Ceres must face the same fate.
On Wednesday, the spacecraft failed to phone home, and it missed
a scheduled connection on Thursday as well. This means that, like
the Kepler mission, Dawn has run out of hydrazine fuel, which the
vehicle needs to orient itself and keep its antennas aligned with
Earth. With no fuel, the spacecraft also cannot keep its solar
panels turned toward the Sun.
This was not unexpected. Prior to this, because NASA did not
want to potentially contaminate the surface of Ceres due to
planetary-protection concerns, mission controllers placed Dawn into
an orbit around Ceres that will remain stable for decades. It is
now a silent sentinel in orbit around the dwarf world it has
studied since 2015.
Source: FS – All – Science – News
The Dawn spacecraft exploring the asteroid belt has gone dark