The Dawn of the Solar System
On 6 March 2015, the NASA’s Dawn spacecraft became the first probe ever to visit a dwarf planet. Selex ES, thanks to its scientific instrumentation, played an essential role for the mission’s success.
After an eight-year journey and almost five million km travelled, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft recently entered the orbit of Ceres, thus becoming the first probe to visit a planetoid. Ceres was the space probe’s second objective, having previously reached, orbited and explored the asteroid Vesta in 2011; the second largest object in the asteroid belt, which proved to be a proto-planet thanks to Dawn’s findings.
Dawn was launched at Cape Canaveral in 2007 and its mission was to analyse and increase our understanding of the processes that led to the formation of the Solar System. To this end, Vesta and Ceres were established as the points of destination for Dawn, as they are the largest proto-planets remaining intact since their formation.
Selex ES technology has played a vital role in this unique mission, thanks to its internationally renowned capabilities in the infrared and thermal imaging expertise.
This mission truly represents a scientific endeavour. Dawn is the first space probe in the history of astronautics to orbit two asteroids. The mission employs the VIR-MS (Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer) instrument produced by Selex ES, which is an image spectrometer that operates in the visible and near infrared, providing very high spatial and spectral resolution to carry out hyper spectral mapping of the asteroids. This highly sophisticated instrument is a derivation of the VIRTIS (Visible and Inferred Thermal Imaging Spectrometer), used during the Rosetta mission and on the Venus Express spacecraft. The activities for the realization of the VIR-MS, designed and built by Selex ES, were financed and coordinated by the Italian Space Agency – ASI.