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Some good news: Dawn has returned its first sharp close-up image of Vesta.
The image to below the fold is to me a relief, as it shows that the spacecraft’s camera is fine and that my engineering friends were correct in telling me so. Forgive me for being a skeptical and nervous reporter.
The image itself shows a cratered surface with one large domelike protrusion. Obviously more data will be necessary to get a more complete picture of the asteroid, its make-up, and its history. Also, full science operations do not begin for several more weeks.
Although orbit capture is complete, the approach phase will continue for about three weeks. During approach, the Dawn team will continue a search for possible moons around the asteroid; obtain more images for navigation; observe Vesta’s physical properties; and obtain calibration data.
In addition, navigators will measure the strength of Vesta’s gravitational tug on the spacecraft to compute the asteroid’s mass with much greater accuracy than has been previously available. That will allow them to refine the time of orbit insertion.