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Dawn craft to circle giant asteroid in first of double-mission encounter
LOS ANGELES (AP) ' NASA says it expects the Dawn spacecraft to slip into orbit late Friday around a giant asteroid after four years sailing through space.
Because Dawn's antenna was pointed away from Earth, engineers won't be able to confirm that the move was successful until after the weekend when it re-establishes contact.
It is the first of two stops for Dawn. After spending a year at the asteroid Vesta, it will move on to an even larger asteroid, Ceres, in 2015.
Vesta and Ceres, located in the asteroid belt, are thought to have formed 4 1/2 billion years ago around the same time as the planets. Studying them should offer clues about the early solar system.
Dawn is powered by ion engines instead of conventional rocket fuel, making the trip more fuel-efficient.