Dawn investigates the internal structure, density and homogeneity of two complementary protoplanets, 1 Ceres and 4 Vesta, that have escaped collisional disruption since their formation, by measuring their mass, shape, volume and spin rate with imagery, and gravity. Dawn records the protoplanets' elemental and mineral composition to determine their thermal history and evolution and provides context for meteorites (asteroid samples already in hand).
Dawn images Ceres’ and Vesta's surfaces to determine their bombardment and tectonic history and uses measurements of the gravityand spin state to estimate the size of any metallic core, and infrared and gamma ray spectrometry to search for water-bearing minerals.
Dawn uses a solar ion propulsion system for its interplanetary journey. It has arrived at Vesta on Jul 2011 and orbited the body for one year. Presently it is en route to Ceres, where it is expected to arrive by Feb. 2015.
The DLR Institute of Planetary Research has contributed to developing and building, under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute, Lindau, the two Framing Cameras onboard the Dawn Mission. The Asteroids and Comets Section is also represented in the Dawn Science Team by a Co-Investigator.