Knoxville (WVLT) -- University of Tennessee researchers are preparing to assist NASA in a new mission that launches later this week.
The DAWN mission will help researchers understand two of the largest asteroids in the solar system by sending an unmanned space craft to orbit and map their surfaces.
By doing so, they hope to better understand the early stages of Earth.
UT Professors will assist in the project by collecting the information the DAWN spacecraft sends back and comparing it to data collected from meteorites that have made their way to earth.
Instead of using heavy rocket engines, the DAWN craft will travel using a plasma generator, designed to release small particles that cause it to slowly build momentum.
While not as fast as rocket power, plasma generators will reduce the crafts weight and require less energy, allowing for longer travel.
DAWN's first stop is the Vesta asteroid.
It should make the 1.9 billion miles trip in about four years.
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