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NASA's Dawn Spacecraft breaks record for speed change

06-08-2010 13:24 BJT

LOS ANGELES, June 7 (Xinhua) -- NASA's ion-propelled Dawn spacecraft has broken the record for velocity change produced by a spacecraft's engines, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said on Monday.

A spacecraft's change in velocity refers to its ability to change its path through space by using its own rocket engines. This measurement of change begins only after the spacecraft exits the last stage of the launch vehicle that hurled it into space.

On June 5, the Dawn spacecraft's accumulated acceleration exceeded 4.3 km per second, or 15,360 km per hour, breaking a record set by Deep Space 1, the first interplanetary spacecraft to use ion propulsion, according to the JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

"We are using this amazing ion-engine technology as a stepping-stone to orbit and explore two of the asteroid belt's most mysterious objects, Vesta and Ceres," said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager from the JPL in Pasadena, Los Angeles.

In one year's time, Dawn's ion propulsion system can increase the spacecraft's speed by 8,850 km per hour, while consuming the equivalent of only 16 gallons of fuel.

"This is a special moment for the spacecraft team," said Dawn's principal investigator, Chris Russell from the University of California Los Angeles. "In only 407 days, our minds will be on another set of records, the data records that Dawn will transmit when we enter Vesta orbit."

Dawn's 4.8-billion-km (3-billion-mile) odyssey includes exploration of asteroid Vesta in 2011 and 2012, and the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015.

These two icons of the asteroid belt have been witness to much of our solar system's history. By using the same set of instruments at two separate destinations, scientists can more accurately formulate comparisons and contrasts.

Dawn's science instrument suite will measure shape, surface topography and tectonic history, elemental and mineral composition, as well as seeking water-bearing minerals. In addition, the way the Dawn spacecraft orbits both Vesta and Ceres will be used to measure the celestial bodies' masses and gravity fields.

While Dawn surpassed Deep Space 1's record for velocity change, Deep Space 1 will continue to reign as holder for the longest duration of powered spaceflight for another few months, the JPL said.

Dawn is expected to break that record around Aug. 10 of this year.

Editor:Zheng Limin |Source: Xinhua

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