The asteroid belt is still a rather unknown place in the Solar System, but NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been working its way through the rocky road over the past eight years, briefly spending time on Mars in 2009 and Vesta in 2011.
Its final location is the largest object in the asteroid belt, a dwarf planet named Ceres. It has only just been labelled a dwarf planet, in line with the recent change in classification for planets, dwarf planets and asteroids.
NASA is hoping to find some sort of information on Ceres, potentially leading to another point of landing for humans in the next 20 years. Scientists already claim humans can live on Mars and some of Jupiter’s moons, but the asteroid belt has not been examined for any possible signs of life or new minerals.
The planned date for landing on Ceres is Friday 7:20AM (ET) or 12:20PM (GMT). It is the first spacecraft to orbit two objects in the same flight, and this is great news for space missions in the future, if space organisations do not need to send multiple spacecraft in case one fails to reach its destination.
Dawn spacecraft uses an ion propulsion system, capable of pushing it out of the orbit of small asteroids and stars. Landing on Ceres will end the Prime Mission, and NASA will look towards sending new Deep Space rockets into the asteroid field.
Deep Space is one of the most interesting parts of space missions nowadays, as rovers continue to map out the world of Mars and the Moon remains untouched.
Learning about the asteroid belt and planets further away from Earth could bring huge amounts of information for scientists, including potential places where life would have been possible.