NASA’s once-canceled Dawn mission to visit a pair of asteroids has been reinstated following a mission review, space agency officials said Monday.
NASA initially canceled the Dawn mission, which calls for an ion-powered spacecraft to visit two large asteroids, earlier this month — only to reverse that decision, which drew ire and opposition from planetary scientists at this month’s 37th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas.
“We revisited a number of technical and financial challenges and the work being done to address them,” NASA Associate Administrator Rex Geveden said in a statement. “Our review determined the project team has made substantive progress … we have confidence the mission will succeed.”
The Dawn mission was approved in 2001 as part of NASA’s low-cost Discovery mission program. The mission plan called for the spacecraft to visit Vesta and Ceres, two of the largest asteroids in the solar system's main asteroid belt, in 2011 and 2015, respectively.
But the mission’s cost swelled from an initial $373 million to $446 million, NASA officials said. That cost overrun — and a 14-month launch delay — prompted NASA’s March 2 decision to scrap the Dawn mission, which came after $257 million had already been spent.
However, a review process to evaluate the cancellation of NASA space missions proved successful.
“The science mission directorate decided to terminate it, and the appeal [was] to see if we continue to fund Dawn or go on with that termination,” said Andrew Dantzler, director of NASA’s solar system division at the agency’s Washington headquarters, during an interview last week.