NASA’s Dawn spacecraft — which orbited the two largest objects in the asteroid belt — has run out of fuel, ending a historic 11-year mission that unravelled many mysteries of our solar system. Dawn missed scheduled communications sessions with NASA's Deep Space Network on October 31 and November 1, the US space agency said in a statement.
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After the flight team eliminated other possible causes for the missed communications, mission managers concluded that the spacecraft finally ran out of hydrazine, the fuel which keeps the spacecraft oriented and in communication with Earth, NASA said in a statement late on Thursday.
"Today, we celebrate the end of our Dawn mission - its incredible technical achievements, the vital science it gave us, and the entire team who enabled the spacecraft to make these discoveries," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
"The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system," Zurbuchen added.
Dawn can no longer keep its antennas trained on Earth to communicate with mission control or turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge.
Currently, it's in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, where it will remain for decades, NASA said.
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In 2011, Dawn became the first to orbit a body in the region between Mars and Jupiter when the spacecraft arrived at Vesta, the second largest world in the main asteroid belt.
"The demands we put on Dawn were tremendous, but it met the challenge every time. It's hard to say goodbye to this amazing spaceship, but it's time," said Marc Rayman, Mission Director and Chief Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
What is NASA's Dawn Mission?
Dawn was a space probe launched by NASA in September 2007 with the mission of studying two of the three known protoplanets of the asteroid belt, Vesta and Ceres. Dawn is the first spacecraft to orbit two extra-terrestrial bodies, the first spacecraft to visit either Vesta or Ceres, and the first to visit a dwarf planet, arriving at Ceres in March 2015, a few months before New Horizons flew by Pluto in July 2015.
The Dawn mission was managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with spacecraft components contributed by European partners from Italy, Germany, France, and the Netherlands.
(With inputs from agencies)