One of Dawn’s reaction wheels, used to orient the spacecraft, shut down last week.


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Uh-oh: One of Dawn’s reaction wheels, used to orient the spacecraft, shut down last week.

During a planned communications pass on Aug. 9, the team learned that the reaction wheel had been powered off. Telemetry data from the spacecraft suggest the wheel developed excessive friction, similar to the experience with another Dawn reaction wheel in June 2010. The Dawn team demonstrated during the cruise to Vesta in 2011 that, if necessary, they could complete the cruise to Ceres without the use of reaction wheels.

That the spacecraft can get to Ceres without reaction wheels is good. However, can it be oriented precisely to do science without these wheels? The JPL press release does not say.

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