An extended Dawn mission might go to another asteroid

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The Dawn science team is proposing that NASA extend the mission by allowing them to use the remaining fuel on the spacecraft to send it away from Ceres and towards another asteroid.

Originally mission managers had planned to park it in a stable orbit around Ceres later this summer, creating a permanent artificial satellite. They could not crash the spacecraft into Ceres, as is customary with many similar missions, because Dawn has not been sterilized in accord with planetary protection procedures. But the extra xenon has created an additional opportunity.

Scientists involved with the spacecraft say they could visit a third object in the asteroid belt. “Instead, we want to go the other way, away from Ceres, to visit yet another target,” principal investigator Chris Russell told New Scientist. Russell would not name the destination without approval of the plan from NASA, but we should learn about it in a few months.

Up until now they had said that they didn’t have enough remaining fuel to do much more than remain in orbit at Ceres. It appears now that they have saved enough fuel to give them more options.

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