Planetary Society volunteer Ken Kremer is reporting for us from the Kennedy Space Center, where he watched Dawn launch on September 27. Thanks Ken! --ESL
by Ken Kremer
Yesterday afternoon I spoke by phone with Marc Rayman while he was working at Dawn Mission Control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to get an update on the absolute latest flight status of the Dawn spacecraft speeding on its way to Mars and the asteroid belt beyond!
He told me that the "The Dawn spacecraft is unbelieveably healthy as of 4:30 p.m. EDT. We had a good ride into space and we were all pretty enthusiastic to hear healthy signals from the launch vehicle. Then we were waiting intently for word on acquisition of signal and spacecraft separation" from the third stage of the launch vehicle.
I asked about the condition of the spacecraft and Marc told me that "Dawn has been fully configured for the checkout phase, which will last until mid-December. We will fire the ion engines for the first time within a week, perhaps as early as this weekend. That's yet to be determined. First to be fired is the number three thruster, which is in line with the spacecraft axis of symmetry. Number two is below the high-gain antenna and number one is behind and below the VIR spectrometer."
Dawn is rapidly receding from Earth; Marc said it will be roughly a million miles from Earth today. The cameras and other science instruments will not be activated for several weeks, when Dawn is far away from anything. Earth will be merely a point of light." So no dramatic pictures of the Earth-Moon system for Dawn. Marc's message is that "Myself and the entire team are just really happy. It has been a terrific beginning to an exciting mission. We are still working around the clock and very long hours. We've got a new ship in flight and we want to take care of her for the long journey outbound."
The team will continue to actively monitor and check the spacecraft 24 hours per day for some time to come.