NASA’s new Dawn spacecraft launched at 7:34 (Eastern Time) on Thursday the 27th, on its way to the dwarf planets (a.k.a., big asteroids) Vesta and Ceres. My apologies for the late post, but I’ve been swamped at work…
So if you’re a space buff, you already know all about this — but if you only skim the news, you’d have easily missed what little coverage the launch received. This must be the curse of space news: a failure during launch probably receives a hundred times more press coverage than a successful launch. In response, I thought it might help to gather up all the links to information on this mission that I can find.
In a sense, Dawn is a follow-on mission to the earlier Deep Space 1 (DS-1), in that electric propulsion (EP) plays a huge part in both the spacecraft and mission design. Oh, and Dr. Marc Rayman is the driving factor behind both, as well. Dawn uses an ion engine to (very efficiently) throw Xenon out of it, in the process giving itself a big push (if only over a long period of time). Here are some sites with more information on this:
- The Spacecraft page at Dawn’s UCLA site briefly discusses the advantages of EP.
- Dawn’s EP earns the spacecraft the nickname “the Prius of space” in a NASA press release, and a Wired blog post summarizing it.
- JPL’s Dawn mission pages include an interactive explanation of how EP works, as well as a run-down on the science instruments Dawn carries
The Dawn mission is to visit (not fly by, but stop and look around for a while at) two dwarf planets that should give us more information on how the solar system formed. Ceres formed in a cooler part of the solar system, and even seems to have ice. In contrast, Vesta formed in much warmer climes, seems to be very dry, and may even have old lava flows on its surface. Here are some pages with more coverage of what this means, and what it may tell us:
- Dawn’s UCLA site (as you’d expect) has lots of good information on the mission, and its science. The site’s Mission description page gives you a rundown on what will happen when. Meanwhile, the site’s Background page has a good presentation of the rationale behind this mission, while its Science page goes into a bit more depth on what various instruments will be doing.
- NASA has a quick overview of the mission here
- The Planetary Society has an in-depth behind-the-scenes interview with lots of good details on the spacecraft and its mission
- Spaceflight now has a good description of the spacecraft and mission in an article looking forward to the launch
Dawn was built by JPL and Orbital Sciences Corp.
- The Spacecraft page at Dawn’s UCLA site has a quick overview of the spacecraft
- Wikipedia has a good writeup on the spacecraft here
From the looks of things, Dawn’s launch went exactly according to plan (although it had to overcome more than its share of stumbling blocks on its way to launch day). Also, Dawn had beautiful weather for its oft-delayed launch, so there’s all sorts of video and still photography available. Here is some coverage that I rounded up:
- Wired magazine blurb on the launch, following up this preview
- NASA has one press release here, and another one here
- New Scientist article on the launch
- Space.com article on the launch
- ULA (the folks that now launch the Delta and Atlas launch vehicles) has a press release out on the launch
The simplest way to keep tabs on this mission is to bookmark its mission pages — at JPL, and at UCLA. Also, the mission has its own email newsletters you can sign up for. See the UCLA site for details on how to sign up for these…