Cosmosound NASA took a picture of the asteroid Bennu

NASA's 'Dawn Mission' to an asteroid belt comes to an end

This ends the spacecraft's 11-year mission, which sent it on a 4.3 billion-mile journey to two of the largest objects in our solar system's main asteroid belt.

Dawn missed two communication sessions with NASA's Deep Space Network the past two days, which means it has lost the ability to turn its antennae toward the Earth or its solar panels toward the sun.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft has run out of fuel and dropped out of contact with mission control, the agency said Thursday. "It's hard to say goodbye to this unbelievable spaceship, but it's time", said Marc Rayman, Mission Director and Chief Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "The demands we made on Dawn were tremendous, but she always faced the challenge. It's hard to say goodbye to this unbelievable spaceship, but it's time", Rayman added.

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA's Directorate of Scientific Missions, in Washington, praised Dawn's "science life" and "incredible technical achievements". 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.

Dawn is now in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres about 243 million miles away from the sun.

"The wonderful images and data received from Dawn at Vesta and Ceres, is essential to understanding the history and evolution of the Solar system", says Tubergen.

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Dawn's four science experiments furthered humanity's understanding of planet formation and showed that dwarf planets could once have hosted their own oceans, and may still.

"In many ways, Dawn's legacy is just beginning", Principal Investigator Carol Raymond at JPL said.

This photo of Ceres and one of its key landmarks, Ahuna Mons, was one of the last views Dawn transmitted before it completed its mission.

Described as "super-resolution" images, the pictures were created by combining eight seperate images of the asteroid. The craft will continue to orbit Ceres for at least 20 years, though many on the team put that number closer to 50.

The samples will help the NASA scientists better understand the origins of the Solar System, the forces that shape the paths of asteroids through space and perhaps reveal some important information about the possible resources we could find on asteroids.

The Dawn mission launched in September 2007. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are global partners on the mission team.

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