Dawn to spend 40 more days around Vesta, bringing a small asteroid into Earth orbit to mine

Monday, April 23, 2012

Two interesting things happened in space last week:

- The Dawn team has decided to give the probe forty more days to orbit Vesta, giving it about a week more time in its current low orbit, and the rest of the time in the high-altitude mapping orbit. Doing this will not change the arrival date at Ceres, so no problem there; all it will require is a bit more thrusting on the way, and thus more fuel. The decision to spend more time around Vesta may also forebode more time spent around Ceres after arrival, given how much larger and more interesting the second target is, along with the less fuel it will have once it has arrived. In the meantime, Dawn is still approaching Ceres simply by virtue of the orbit of Vesta which is currently catching up to Ceres from behind:

Current distance to Ceres is 0.6757 AU, or 101 million km.

The other interesting piece of news last week was this one on asteroid mining, or more specifically a new company called Planetary Resources that seems intent on doing just that. Two previous posts here on the possibility of asteroid mining (we're talking very small asteroids here, just seven or so metres in diameter) are here and here. The general idea is this: bring a small asteroid into Earth's orbit, then use it somehow.


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