Dawn is NASA’s a mission to the two largest bodies in the asteroid belt – Vesta and Ceres, These diverse worlds offer scientific snapshots of the birth of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
Dawn’s mission was extended several times as it explored Ceres and Vesta, which when combined, make up 45 percent of the mass of the main asteroid belt. Now, the spacecraft is about to run out of a key fuel, hydrazine. When that happens, most likely between September and October, Dawn will lose its ability to communicate with Earth. It will remain in a silent orbit around Ceres for decades.
Dawn is the only spacecraft to orbit a body in the asteroid belt. And it is the only spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial destinations. These feats were possible thanks to ion propulsion, a tremendously efficient propulsion system familiar to science-fiction fans and space enthusiasts. Dawn pushed the limits of the system’s capabilities and stamina, showing how useful it is for other missions that aim to visit multiple destinations.