August 30, 2018 — Dawn Continues Exploring Ceres Even as Mission End Approaches
Dawn is operating flawlessly at Ceres as it continues to acquire high-resolution data. In its final orbit of the mission, the spacecraft performs its measurements as it streaks only about 22 miles (35 kilometers) above the ground, then soars up to 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) and plunges back down again. Each loop takes 27 hours.
Dawn relies on hydrazine propellant to control its orientation in the zero-gravity of spaceflight. The explorer will continue operating until the last of the hydrazine is spent, most likely in September or October. It will struggle briefly, but the long and successful mission will be at its end. A pair of Dawn Journals in August describe what will happen to the spacecraft, both right away and for decades to come, as well as the feelings that one member of the team (yours truly) may experience when this extraordinary extraterrestrial expedition concludes.