NASA‘s spacecraft Dawn was launched , beginning its eight-year journey across 6.4 billion kilometres in space.The spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 7:34 ET.
NASA said the mission will study two asteroids, Vesta and Ceres, which formed 4.5 billion years ago in the same environment as the rocky planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.
Dawn is the first spacecraft to be able to orbit around more than one target, thanks to innovative ion-propulsion engines that can be stopped and restarted during flight using a fraction of the fuel of conventional chemical thrusters, reports Reuters.
Dawn’s science instruments will measure mass, shape, surface topography and tectonic history, elemental and mineral composition, as well as seek out water-bearing minerals.
NASA predicts the spacecraft will reach Vesta in August 2011, and it will stay there for about nine months. It will leave in May 2012 for a nearly three-year trip to Ceres.Both minor planets are in the solar system’s asteroid belt, a region between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Dawn contains a computer chip about the size of a nickel with the names of more than 360,000 space enthusiasts from around the world who signed up to join a virtual voyage to the asteroid belt.