Sunday, September 16, 2007
DAWN is one of the biggest missions we currently have at UCLA Space Sciences. Its about to launch on September 26th from the Cape. Here's an article on its ion engines.
DAWN has been a long time coming. Dr. Russell's first proposal for the mission was submitted about 10 years ago. I think it was originally suppose to go to the moon first. I remember when I was still a student in 2001 many of the staff were in DC on Sept. 11, either for the final succeeding proposal or a design review. Since we are on the science end, for most of us the job hasn't started yet and really won't get rolling for another 5 years. By that time, a lot of the systems I ordered and configured for handling the data will already be obsolete, but thats ok we already budgeted for upgrades. A lot of the people who worked on the original proposals have also already retired or moved on to other jobs. For now most of the jobs will be test data and checking up on the instruments aboard.
The great thing about the ion engines on this mission is its flexibility. The mission has actually already missed its first launch opportunity but its still on schedule to hit Vesta by manipulating the output on the engines. Beyond the second rendezvous with Ceres, its also possible to route DAWN to other objects. It all depends on the fuel and whether we can convince NASA's space science office to give us more money. The picture is of the spacecraft packed in its shroud.