Dawn’s arrival at Ceres delayed one month

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Though engineers have solved the problems caused when a radiation blast disabled Dawn’s ion engine and put it into safe mode for a week, the fix will cause a one month delay in its arrival at the asteroid Ceres.

Controllers discovered Dawn was in safe mode Sept. 11 after radiation disabled its ion engine, which uses electrical fields to “push” the spacecraft along. The radiation stopped all engine thrusting activities. The thrusting resumed Monday (Sept. 15) after controllers identified and fixed the problem, but then they found another anomaly troubling the spacecraft.

Dawn’s main antenna was also disabled, forcing the spacecraft to send signals to Earth (a 53-minute roundtrip by light speed) through a weaker secondary antenna and slowing communications. The cause of this problem hasn’t been figured out yet, but controllers suspect radiation affected the computer’s software. A computer reset has solved the issue, NASA added. The spacecraft is now functioning normally.


One comment

  • I’m often amazed by the ingenuity of the JPL people in finding fixes and work-arounds to allow their far-flung space vehicles to complete at least a fair share of the missions intended. Kudos to them for pulling a rabbit out of the hat this month for Dawn.

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