JPL’s Dawn spacecraft shut down its ion propulsion system today as scheduled. The spacecraft is now gliding toward a Mars flyby in February of next year.

“Dawn has completed the thrusting it needs to use Mars for a gravity assist to help get us to Vesta,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer, of NASA’s JPL. “Dawn will now coast in its orbit around the sun for the next half a year before we again fire up the ion propulsion system to continue our journey to the asteroid belt.”

Dawn’s ion engines may get a short workout next January to provide any final orbital adjustments prior to its encounter with the Red Planet. Ions are also scheduled to fly out of the propulsion system during some systems testing in spring. But mostly, Dawn’s three ion engines will remain silent until June, when they will again speed Dawn toward its first appointment, with asteroid Vesta.

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