The Dawn Spacecraft
The Dawn spacecraft is designed to travel to and operate in orbit around the two largest main belt asteroids, Vesta and Ceres. Developed to meet a ten-year life and fully redundant, the spacecraft accommodates an ion propulsion system, including three ion engines and xenon propellant tank, utilizes large solar arrays to power the engines, carries the science instrument payload, and hosts the hardware and software required to successfully collect and transmit the scientific data back to Earth. The launch of the Dawn spacecraft in September 2007 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was the culmination of nearly five years of design, development, integration and testing of this unique system, one of the very few scientific spacecraft to rely on ion propulsion. The Dawn spacecraft arrived at its first destination, Vesta, in July 2011, where it will conduct science operations for twelve months before departing for Ceres.