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Bill
28 Mar 06,, 01:54
NASA Restarts Canceled Asteroid Mission

By ALICIA CHANG, AP Science Writer
LOS ANGELES -
NASA on Monday resurrected an ambitious mission to explore two of the solar system's largest asteroids, just weeks after budget woes killed the project.
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The space agency this month scrapped the Dawn mission to orbit the asteroids Ceres and Vesta, nearly half a year after it was put on hold because of cost overruns and technical problems. The project's cost is now estimated at $446 million.

NASA decided to review the cancellation after the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which managed the mission, made an appeal.

NASA Associate Administrator Rex Geveden, who led the review, said the Dawn team has made significant progress in addressing the technical problems.

"There are always pretty tall challenges, and it looks like Dawn is prepared to take those on and beat them," Geveden said.

Dawn is now scheduled for launch in July 2007. The mission's cost was capped at $373 million, but NASA will pony up an extra $73 million to launch the spacecraft instead of spending $14 million to terminate it.

Powered by a xenon ion engine, Dawn would be the first spacecraft to circle Ceres and Vesta, which are in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Ceres and Vesta are believed to have formed in different parts of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago, and studying them could provide clues to how the sun and planets formed.

The delayed launch should not affect the spacecraft's arrival time, Geveden said. Dawn was scheduled to reach Vesta in 2011, then fly to Ceres in 2015.

Scientists were outraged when NASA axed the Dawn mission after a March 2 congressional budget hearing. The agency cited a report by an independent team that found more than two dozen problems that needed to be resolved.

The cancellation came at a precarious time at NASA, which had been forced to cut or delay several science projects to help pay for the development of new manned vehicles to return to the moon next decade.