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NASA asteroid-exploring Dawn spacecraft says a sad goodbye

Dawn explored two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, but with its fuel run out, its mission is over.


It's been a sad week for NASA missions.

After saying goodbye to its exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope, NASA has had to conclude its 11-year-old Dawn spacecraft, used for exploring two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, because it has run out of fuel. It announced Thursday it had officially ended the spacecraft's mission.

The spacecraft had been on its way out since June, NASA engineers sending it into its closest orbit with dwarf planet Ceres on the last few months of its fuel. The orbit is where Dawn will continue to drift.

On Oct. 31 and Nov.1, Dawn missed scheduled communication check-ins, unable to turn its solar panels to the sun to recharge and train its antennae on Earth.

"The fact that my car's license plate frame proclaims, 'My other vehicle is in the main asteroid belt,' shows how much pride I take in Dawn," Marc Rayman, the chief engineer on the Dawn Mission, said in a statement. "The demands we put on Dawn were tremendous, but it met the challenge every time. It's hard to say goodbye to this amazing spaceship, but it's time."

Days before Dawn's retirement, after nearly a decade of service, NASA's Kepler Space Telescope was left to forever orbit around the Sun, having also run out of fuel.