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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Mini mission updates: Dawn in orbit; Curiosity short circuit; Rosetta image release; Hayabusa2 in cruise phase; and more

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

06-03-2015 11:42 CST

Topics: InSight, Rosetta and Philae, pretty pictures, Hayabusa2, mission status, Mars Express, asteroids, Dawn, Chang'E program, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory), asteroid 1 Ceres

So much news from around the solar system this week! The major headline is that Dawn has successfully entered orbit at Ceres, becoming the first mission to orbit a dwarf planet and the first to orbit two different bodies beyond Earth. Along with the news, the mission released some crescent views of Ceres, taken for optical navigation purposes. I've compiled one picture from each observation session into a montage that illustrates how Dawn approached Ceres and then passed beyond it to its night side before entering orbit:

Approaching Ceres

NASA / JPL / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA / collage by Emily Lakdawalla

Approaching Ceres
Dawn took this series of images of Ceres before it was captured into its first orbit. Dawn approached Ceres from the direction of the Sun and passed to its night side before orbital capture. In order from left to right, the images were taken December 1, 2014 (camera calibration); January 13 and 25 and February 4 (optical navigation images 1, 2, and 3); February 12 and 19 (Rotation Characterizations 1 and 2); and February 25 and March 1 (optical navigation images 4 and 5). The next images will be taken in April.

Dawn will not take new images for another month; two optical navigation sessions are planned for April 10 and 14.

But Dawn is not the only mission that's been generating news this week. Here's a survey of events happening around the rest of the solar system.

The Curiosity mission completed drilling activities at Telegraph Peak and was set to drive away but suffered a short circuit inside the sample handling mechanism on the arm. Out of an abundance of caution, Curiosity will remain still while the engineers work to diagnose the problem and develop methods to continue to operate the rover safely. (EDITED TO ADD: JPL posted an update on their progress and hopes to resume arm activity next week.) However, the prohibition on moving the rover does not seem to include the rover's mast, so science has not stopped; new images from Mars show they continue to do remote sensing work with ChemCam and Mastcam on targets at the Telegraph Peak drill site. I will post a blog entry on the drilling activities at Telegraph Peak before too long.

The Rosetta mission announced today the release of the first batch of data from the Rosetta NavCam instrument from the comet phase of the mission. This release only covers data through July 2, 2014, while the comet was still just a bright dot to NavCam. But the mission promises monthly NavCam data releases henceforth, which will eventually catch up to releasing data that is only 6 months old. The releases are at a new website,, which will eventually collect data from other instruments. The first science data releases should come in May. Meanwhile, they continue to release selected spectacular images of the comet through the Rosetta blog, which you can also access through the usual Rosetta and Rosetta Navcam image galleries.

Another ESA mission, Mars Express, has announced a competition to allow schoolchildren from certain countries (ESA member and cooperating states plus the USA, Argentina, and Australia) to propose imaging targets for the Visual Monitoring Camera. Applications are due in only three weeks, on March 27. Even if you don't apply, you can enjoy all VMC images through the VMC blog and Flickr page.

Japan's Hayabusa2 has successfully completed its initial commissioning phase and has now transitioned to cruise phase. They plan two thrust periods in 2015, one in March and one in June, to set up its  Earth flyby in November or December. A detailed summary of the commissioning phase activities is available in the JAXA news release.

Against all odds, the Yutu rover on the Moon is still functioning, though still immobile. According to a Xinhua report, China considers the Chang'e 3 mission to be sufficiently successful that they will not launch the backup spacecraft as a duplicate mission. They still do plan to launch that spacecraft as Chang'e 4, but with "some innovation." Meanwhile, Chang'e 5 is set for a 2017 launch. (Via Quanzhi Ye)

And finally, some updates on missions in development:

The InSIGHT mission announced the downselection to one candidate landing site on Mars. The site is the one named E09 in this 2014 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference abstract, an ellipse 130 kilometers east-west and 27 kilometers north-south, centered at 4.46°N, 136.04°E. The InSIGHT launch period opens in a year, on March 4, 2016.

Finally, the OSIRIS-REx mission has received permission to proceed with spacecraft assembly. The mission is aiming for a September 2016 launch.

What's Up in the Solar System diagram by Olaf Frohn (updated for March 2017)

Olaf Frohn

What's Up in the Solar System diagram by Olaf Frohn (updated for March 2017)
A diagram, updated once a month, of active space missions traveling beyond Earth orbit. Contains links to past diagrams.
See other posts from March 2015


Or read more blog entries about: InSight, Rosetta and Philae, pretty pictures, Hayabusa2, mission status, Mars Express, asteroids, Dawn, Chang'E program, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory), asteroid 1 Ceres


WhiteLancer64: 03/09/2015 10:39 CDT

i was shocked to read that Yutu is still functional! congrats to the Chinese... that rover was well-built (any possible wheel issues aside). best of luck on their next rover!

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