Ion drives: amazingly efficient, painfully slow to start

Saturday, November 03, 2012

It has now been almost two months since Dawn left Vesta's orbit on its way to Ceres, and in that time it has moved a total of...756,000 km away from Vesta, now two times the distance of the moon from us. We are often told about the thrust produced by an ion drive being equal to that of the force exerted by a single sheet of paper on one's hand, but seeing it in practice like this really drives the point home.

Distance to Ceres: 58.6 million km. That's far closer than any other probe has ever been to the tiny planet, but we still have a long wait - around two years before the approach phase begins. In the meantime, MS Paint is the easiest way to show the respective distances between Dawn and these two bodies.


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