Washington, June 8 (ANI): NASA's dawn spacecraft has shattered the record for velocity change produced by a spacecraft's engines.
The ion-propelled spacecraft is on its way to the first of the asteroid belt's two most massive inhabitants.
The previous standard-bearer for velocity change, NASA's Deep Space 1, also impelled by ion propulsion, was the first interplanetary spacecraft to use this technology.
The Deep Space 1 record fell on June 5, when the Dawn spacecraft's accumulated acceleration over the mission exceeded 4.3 kilometers per second (9,600 miles per hour).
"We are using this amazing ion-engine technology as a stepping-stone to orbit and explore two of the asteroid belt's most mysterious objects, Vesta and Ceres," said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
A spacecraft's change in velocity refers to its ability to change its path through space by using its own rocket engines.
This measurement of change begins only after the spacecraft exits the last stage of the launch vehicle that hurled it into space.
To get to where it is in both the record books and the asteroid belt, the Dawn spacecraft had to fire its three engines - one at a time - for a cumulative total of 620 days.
In that time, it has used less than 165 kilograms of xenon propellant.
Over the course of its eight-plus-year mission, Dawn's three ion engines are expected to accumulate 2,000 days of operation - 5.5 years of thrusting - for a total change in velocity of more than 38,620 kilometers per hour.
"I am delighted that it will be Dawn that surpasses DS1's record," said Marc Rayman, chief engineer for the Dawn mission and a previous project manager for Deep Space 1.
He added: "It is a tribute to all those involved in the design and operations of this remarkable spacecraft."
"This is a special moment for the spacecraft team," said Dawn's principal investigator, Chris Russell of the University of California, Los Angeles.
He added: "In only 407 days, our minds will be on another set of records, the data records that Dawn will transmit when we enter Vesta orbit."
Dawn's 4.8-billion-kilometer odyssey includes exploration of asteroid Vesta in 2011 and 2012, and the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015. (ANI)