September 27, 2007 / 1:50 PM / 12 years ago

FACTBOX-NASA launches spacecraft to asteroid belt

(Reuters) - A U.S. spacecraft called Dawn launched on Thursday on a long-delayed mission to explore two asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Here are some facts about the mission:

* The Dawn spacecraft is intended to be a low-cost mission to explore two of the largest bodies in the asteroid belt, a vast area between Mars and Jupiter littered with primordial remains from the solar system’s formation.

* The spacecraft will be the first able to orbit around more than one target, thanks to innovative ion-propulsion engines that can be stopped and restarted during flight using a fraction of the fuel of conventional chemical thrusters.

* NASA last year cancelled Dawn, citing budget pressures and technical issues, but scientists appealed and won an additional $100 million (49 million pounds) to continue the program. Total mission costs will now be about $450 million.

* Dawn originally was scheduled to fly on June 20 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station but the mission was delayed after a crane failure. Then the spacecraft needed minor repairs to one of its solar wing panels. Poor weather and mechanical problems with a tracking aircraft delayed another launch attempt in July.

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