Like the vast majority of space science disciplines, Dawn's voyage of discovery started in the depths of space but ultimately leads back to working out how our planet formed and why it became so special.
Dawn's Next Dance Partner Getting to Ceres has been a celestial dance that started in 2007 at launch, eventually rendezvousing with Vesta in 2011 and now approaching Ceres.
"Basically what we're trying to do now is to match the speed of Ceres going around the sun, so we're slowing down, easing into orbit instead of a big crazy burn," mission operations engineer Keri Bean told Discovery News. As opposed to more conventional chemical rocket engines, "we have an engine that's slower, which takes lots of time."
Dawn has three xenon ion engines that are used for propulsion, applying a steady rate of acceleration over a long period. As rapid acceleration and deceleration burns are not possible, a far more elegant approach to deep space navigation is required.
"We're dancing around the solar system, and we're in this dance with Ceres. We've danced with Vesta and now we're going onto the next dance partner," said Bean.