NASA's Dawn spacecraft after 11 years of gathering breath-taking imagery probe for the asteroid belt is drawing to a close due to lack of fuel, according to the US space agency.
Dawn was launched in 2007 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to study two of the three known protoplanets of the asteroid belt Vesta and Ceres which make up 45 percent of the mass of the main asteroid belt. ALSO READ | First ever vegetarian shark species identified say scientists The fuel, Hydrazine keeps Dawn in communication with the Earth. The spacecraft is likely to run out of fuel between September and October this year.
When that happens, Dawn will lose its ability to communicate with Earth, but will remain in a silent orbit around Ceres for decades, NASA said in statement.
"Not only did this spacecraft unlock scientific secrets at these two small but significant worlds, it was also the first spacecraft to visit and orbit bodies at two extra-terrestrial destinations during its mission," said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at Headquarters in Washington.
From 2011 to 2012, the spacecraft swept over Vesta, capturing images of craters and even mountains of this planet-like world. "Dawn has shown us alien worlds that for two centuries, were just pinpoints of light amidst the stars. And it has produced these richly detailed, intimate portraits and revealed exotic, mysterious landscapes unlike anything we've ever seen," said Marc Rayman, Dawn's mission director and chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Engineers have designed Dawn's final orbit – around Ceres, which has no atmosphere – to ensure it will not crash for at least 20 years, and likely decades longer, NASA said. ALSO READ | You can name NASA rockets if you pay enough Dawn for now continues to gather high-resolution images, gramma ray, neutron spectra, infrared spectra and gravity data at Ceres.