Orbital's New Spacecraft Starts 3 Billion-Mile Trip
A NASA spacecraft designed by Dulles-based Orbital Sciences last week began a 3 billion-mile journey through the solar system toward an eventual rendezvous with two asteroids. See the company's statement.
The Dawn spacecraft successfully lifted off on Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force station in Florida. Early data gathered from the spacecraft after its launch indicted normal operations.
Scientists hope that Dawn will help advance their understanding of the solar system's origin's and development by studying Ceres and Vesta, two of the largest bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft, which weighs about a ton, will explore Vesta in 2011, and Ceres in 2015, according to NASA.
The vehicle was built by Orbital over a four-year period for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The company said Dawn is the first space vehicle to use an a new ion propulsion system developed by JPL.
In July, Orbital reported a 40 percent gain in its second quarter profit. A significant portion of its revenue growth during the quarter came from its satellite and space systems division, which recorded an almost 60 percent revenue increase.
"Orbital's entire staff is very excited that it is now on its way to completing a historic, first-of-its-kind mission," Carl Marchetto, executive vice president and general manager of Orbital's space systems unit, said in a statement. "With the Dawn mission, we have an excellent opportunity to display our deep space capabilities and look forward to participating in future spacecraft programs."
-- Mike Shepard
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