Mission: Dawn | Experiment: Framing Camera

Since its takeoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 27, 2007, the US space probe Dawn is on its mission to explore the small bodies Vesta and Ceres in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The NASA mission aims at investigating the formation and evolution of these bodies to find clues to the solar system’s early history. 

The journey through the inner solar system was successfully completed by Dawn after four years and in July 2011 its first target, the asteroid Vesta, was reached. Vesta has the shape of an ellipsoid (286x279x223 km) and orbits the sun at a distance of approximately 350 million kilometers. For one year, the probe collected scientific data of Vesta whereby the cameras on board took numerous images. These obtained views mapped surface details with a resolution of up to 20 m per pixel. Vesta’s surface was nearly completely covered by the camera during the spacecraft’s one-year-long sojourn.

After that, the spacecraft went on a two-and-a-half-years journey to the second mission target. The dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object (483x481x445 km) in the asteroid belt and almost unchanged in size and shape since its formation in the early period of the solar system. Therefore, the asteroid offers a good research object with regard to the mission purposes. In April 2015, Dawn has reached Ceres and since then the instruments continuously transmit data about the properties of its surface from various orbits.

Since July 2018, Dawn is flying in highly elliptical orbits around Ceres. This brought the spacecraft temporarily to a distance of only 35 kilometers of the dwarf planet´s surface. In that configuration, the cameras on board are able to take images with a resolution of less than five meters per pixel. Until the end of the mission in the second half of 2018, Dawn will continue to investigate Ceres as long as the remaining fuel will last.

The camera experiment on board Dawn is the Framing Camera (FC) which was developed in cooperation between the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing Group of FU Berlin is involved in the scientific processing and evaluation of the image data.

One of the main tasks of the research group at FU Berlin is the development of a chronostratigraphic system. The dating of different landforms by determining the frequency distribution of crater sizes provides the scientists with important information to better understand the geological evolution and impact processes at Vesta.

The detailed insight into meteorite impacts at asteroids makes it possible to establish corresponding coherences with the evolution of meteorite impacts in the young solar system. Of special interest in this case is also the examination of the material distribution of rock forming minerals and water ice. On behalf of the Dawn Science Team the researchers at FU Berlin create geologic maps and date Vesta’s and Ceres´ surface.


 • Reference number 50 OW 1505
 • Funded by the Space Administration of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) with means of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.
 • Latest Term:  Nov 01, 2015 - Mar 31, 2020