NASA Dawn spacecraft runs out of fuel days after Kepler loss

NASA has revealed that its Dawn spacecraft's mission has ended due to a lack of fuel. The end of its life was revealed by a missed communications session that was scheduled to take place with NASA. According to the space agency, Dawn was supposed to communicate with its team on October 31 and again today, but neither session took place.READ: Kepler spacecraft dies after nine years of planet hunting

The Dawn spacecraft was launched 11 years ago to study the main asteroid belt, the end of its mission having involved Ceres, home of mysterious shiny spots. The spacecraft used hydrazine as the fuel for controlling where it points, but it has used up the last of its reserves, leaving it unable to perform that important function.

The spacecraft will remain in orbit around Ceres for decades, according to NASA, which determined the issue after eliminating other possible causes for the missed communication sessions. Without the ability to control its pointing, Dawn won't be able to orient its solar panels to recharge nor position its antennas to talk with Earth.

Though the mission is over, Dawn's achievements remain. NASA says its spacecraft clocked around 4.3 billion miles, having arrived at Vesta in 2011 following its 2007 launch. Dawn was the first of its kind to orbit a body located between Jupiter and Mars, later proceeding to orbit the dwarf planet Ceres.

Dawn's Principal Investigator at JPL, Carol Raymond, said:

In many ways, Dawn's legacy i­s just beginning. Dawn's data sets will be deeply mined by scientists working on how planets grow and differentiate, and when and where life could have formed in our solar system. Ceres and Vesta are important to the study of distant planetary systems, too, as they provide a glimpse of the conditions that may exist around young stars.