NASA decided to extend the duration of nine of its space missions, including New Horizons and the old Dawn. The later has engine damage and a low level of fuel.
The Dawn’s original space mission was completed in 2012 when the spacecraft ended the exploration of the giant protoplanet Vesta. Since then, the space vehicle orbited the dwarf planet Ceres, situated in the vicinity of Vesta.
Following the latest decision from NASA, Dawn will continue to orbit Ceres. The spacecraft has a low fuel level, and it was damaged while orbiting Vesta. Two of its wheels melted because of the heat. However, Dawn managed to reach Ceres but is now unable to change the route.
The team of scientists involved in the Dawn space mission managed to keep the spacecraft on its course. They even discussed with NASA to obtain the approval of a new mission that would have involved reaching the Adeona asteroid. Unfortunately, the new trajectory was not approved.
While Dawn is forced to orbit the dwarf planet, scientists will make the best of the situation and will collect more data while still there. Deepening the knowledge of one space object could still bring benefits to science, even if the astronomers could be more keep on exploration than on the profound analysis of a single planet. After all, for this purpose, we have the Earth.
New Horizons is a space probe launched in 2006 by an Atlas V rocket. The vehicle approached the Moon just one day after its departure from Earth. Afterward, New Horizons incidentally took a closer look at the 132524 APL asteroid and reached Jupiter in February 2007. The space mission continued with the 2015 approach of Pluto.
The vehicle carries seven scientific instruments, among which a long-range reconnaissance imager, a toroidal electrostatic analyzer that was used on Pluto, an ion and electron sensor, an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer that is named Alice, a telescope named Ralph, and a dust counter built by Colorado students.
The spacecraft is now at 4.5 light-hours away from Earth, which means that the recorded data from Pluto needed sixteen months to arrive on our planet.
The plans for New Horizons are for it to reach the 2014 MU69 asteroid. The encounter is expected to take place in January 2019. The spacecraft will map the surface geology and topography; it will make temperature and mass measurements; and finally, it will search for satellites, rings and any signs of activity in its vicinity.
New Horizons has more than ten years in space, being one of the oldest vehicles that are still functioning at full capacity.
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