Dawn is an interplanetary NASA Discovery-class mission successfully launched on Sep. 27, 2007. Dawn's goal is to achieve an understanding of the conditions and processes acting at the solar system's earliest epoch.
Dawn investigates the internal structure, density and homogeneity of two complementary protoplanets, 1 Ceres and 4 Vesta, that have remained intact 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 gravity, spin state to limit 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 and is expected to arrive at Vesta by Aug 2011. After remaining for 9 months at Vesta, it will depart for 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.