Dawn falling late: NASA's other glitch of the week

In space, nobody can debug you in a hurry

Ceres' bright spots  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

While the world was distracted by New Horizons' brief woes, NASA also had to put its Dawn spacecraft into a holding pattern to work out a software glitch.

Dawn, which is fascinating the world with its shots of Ceres – and exciting boffins and conspiracists alike with its shots of the dwarf planet's bright spots, is currently parked in its mapping orbit 4,400 km (2,700 miles) above the object of its affections.

NASA says the system that controls its orientation experienced “an anomaly”.

NASA explains the anomaly was detected when Dawn fired its ion thruster, preparatory to spiralling down to a lower mapping orbit.

Like New Horizons, it followed standard procedure and went into a “safe mode” configuration, in which it transmitted a radio signal requesting further instructions.

The good news: after configuration changes made on July 1 and 2 to bring it out of safe mode, Dawn is now communicating with Earth using its main antenna.

Dawn's handlers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory are keeping the spacecraft in its current mapping orbit until they complete an analysis of what happened.

The spacecraft and its schedules are flexible, with NASA saying “there is no special "window" for starting or completing the spiral to the third mapping orbit,” and re-scheduling the plans won't involve “significant changes in objectives or productivity.” ®

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