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[i]NASA's Dawn asteroid probe zoomed past the planet Mars late Tuesday to grab a speed boost aimed at flinging it on toward the largest space rocks in the solar system.
The ion-powered spacecraft used the gravitational pull of Mars to slingshot around the planet and hurtle outward toward its next stop, the asteroid Vesta. The maneuver was expected to boost Dawn's speed by more than 5,800 mph (9,330 kph) and set the asteroid probe on track to reach Vesta in August 2011.
...Tuesday's Mars flyby was expected to give Dawn a power boost equivalent to about 230 pounds (104 kg) of xenon fuel. For comparison, Dawn's current setup allows it to fire its engines for more than 24 hours while consuming about 9 ounces ( 0.26 kg) of fuel.
Dawn is expected to fire its engine for about 50,000 hours - more than any other spacecraft - by the end of its mission. Japan's asteroid probe Hayabusa, which reignited its xenon engine last month, has fired its ion drive for more than 30,000 hours during its mission to the space rock Itokawa. Hayabusa is slowly returning to Earth to deliver a capsule that may contain samples of the Itokawa asteroid.[/i]
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