Dawn spacecraft maneuvering above Ceres
This artist's concept shows NASA's Dawn spacecraft arriving at the dwarf planet Ceres, the most massive body in the asteroid belt. Dawn is the first mission to visit a dwarf planet – a round body that orbits the sun but, unlike a planet, does not clear its orbital path of other objects.



NASA's Dawn mission was launched on 27 September 2007. It was designed to study two large bodies in the asteroid belt in order to address questions about the formation of the Solar System. Ceres and Vesta were chosen as two contrasting protoplanets, the first one apparently 'wet' (i.e. icy and cold) and the other 'dry' (i.e. rocky), whose accretion was terminated by the formation of Jupiter. The two bodies provide a bridge in scientific understanding between the formation of rocky planets and the icy bodies of the Solar System, and under which conditions a rocky planet can hold water. Dawn entered Vesta's orbit on 16 July 2011, and completed a 14-month survey mission before leaving for Ceres in late 2012. It then entered Ceres' orbit on 6 March 2015. On 31 October 2018, the Dawn spacecraft had exhausted its hydrazine fuel, thus ending its mission. The satellite is currently in an uncontrolled orbit around Ceres.

During Dawn’s active orbit its investigation confirmed that Vesta is the parent of the HED (howardites, eucrites, and diogenites) meteorites, which Dawn connected to Vesta’s large south-polar basin. Dawn also found hydrated and carbon-rich material on Vesta’s surface supplied by impactors, a result that was unexpected based on pre-Dawn telescopic observations. Dawn discovered that the inner Solar System’s only dwarf planet Ceres is an ocean world where water and ammonia reacted with silicate rocks. Dawn also found organics in several locations on Ceres’ surface. On board Dawn are two identical German cameras for mapping and examining irregular and cratered surfaces, and collected data at varying distances from Vesta and Ceres from various angles relative to the surface. As well as a panchromatic filter, a filter wheel also provides seven different colour channels to investigate the composition and physical properties of the surface. Besides providing the detector and electronics for the cameras DLR was as part of its Co-I ships responsible for assigning precise coordinates to the Dawn image data and preparing high-precision maps of Vesta and Ceres including digital terrain models and also taking the lead of the geosciences working group.

Hardware Participation of the DLR Institute of Planetary Research

  • FC (Framing Camera)

Scientific Participation of the DLR Institute of Planetary Research

  • FC (Framing Camera)

  • VIR (Visual and Infrared Imaging Spectrometer)