The $467 million Dawn mission, launched in 2007 to study the protoplanet Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres, missed scheduled communications sessions with Nasa's Deep Space Network on October 31 and November 1, Nasa said in a statement.
The spacecraft this week stopped communicating with flight controllers, prompting NASA to declare it dead on Thursday. The "astounding" images collected by Dawn are shedding light on the history and evolution of our solar system, said NASA's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen.
Without this ability, Dawn was no longer able to set its antennas to communicate with its controllers on Earth, nor could it turn and adjust its solar panels to get a power recharge from the Sun.
Dawn is referred as the only rocket to orbit an astronomical body in the fundamental space rock belt among Mars and Jupiter in 2011 when it started orbiting the space rock Vesta. "The demands we made on Dawn were tremendous, but she always faced the challenge. It's hard to say goodbye to this fantastic spaceship, but it's time", said Mission Director and Chief Engineer Marc Rayman at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). That way, in case NASA wants to send a follow-up mission, Dawn will not collide with Ceres before they do, keeping the planet free from human-and bacterial-contamination.
Having traveled some 4.3 billion miles over the course of its 11-year mission, it's hard to say it had a bad innings, but it's a sad ending all the same.
Then it moved on to the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015, becoming the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet and the only spacecraft to orbit one, NASA said.
"In many ways, Dawn's legacy is just beginning", said the mission's principal Investigator, Carol Raymond of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It's not just large asteroids: these so-called proto-planet represent that era in the history of the Solar system, formed when her worlds. "It's hard to say goodbye to this incredible spaceship, but it's time", he said in the press release. The OSIRIS-REx will only manage to enter the asteroid's orbit on December 13th, if everything goes according to plan.
An artist's concept of Dawn arriving at Ceres. The engineers have more than 99 percent confidence the orbit will last for at least 50 years, NASA stated on its website. JPL is responsible for overall Dawn mission science.