The mission of the Dawn spacecraft, sent to the asteroid belt to Vesta and Ceres, has come to an end after it finally ran out of hydrazine fuel.
Its mission to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter was declared over by NASA after the spacecraft failed to communicate with the organisation's Deep Space Network on 31 October and 1 November.
After other possible reasons for the failed communications were ruled out, the NASA mission team concluded that the spacecraft had finally run out of fuel - just over 12 months after its mission had been extended until the spacecraft's fuel reserves ran dry.
It comes in the same week that NASA's Kepler space telescope was declared dead after running out of fuel as well. However, the demise of these two spacecraft was not a surprise for the mission teams.
Dawn was launched in 2007 with an aim to study the dwarf planet Ceres and protoplanet Vesta located in the asteroid belt. Ceres and Vesta are regarded as leftovers from the planet-formation period of our solar system.
Propelled by ion engines, the $467 million Dawn arrived at Vesta, the second largest body in the main asteroid belt, in 2011 and orbited the protoplanet for 14 months. The probe revealed some interesting details about Vesta, including the presence of a high peak near its south pole.
In 2012, Dawn left Vesta to commence its journey toward Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt. The spacecraft arrived at this dwarf planet in March 2015, becoming the first man-made spacecraft ever to circle two major bodies beyond the Earth. It found bright spots on Ceres.
During its 11-year-long life, the spacecraft sent close-up views of Vesta and Ceres, as well as clues about the building blocks of the planets of our solar system.
According to NASA, Dawn will continue to circle Ceres for the next 20 years, and NASA don't expect the spacecraft to spiral down onto Ceres' surface for at least the next 50 years.
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