PASADENA, Calif. – NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is on track to begin the first extended visit to a large asteroid. The mission expects to go into orbit around Vesta on July 16 and begin gathering science data in early August. Vesta resides in the main asteroid belt and is thought to be the source of a large number of meteorites that fall to Earth.

“The spacecraft is right on target,” said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “We look forward to exploring this unknown world during Dawn’s one-year stay in Vesta’s orbit.”

After traveling nearly four years and 1.7 billion miles, Dawn was about 96,000 miles away from Vesta as of June 23. When Vesta captures Dawn into its orbit July 16, there will be about 9,900 miles between them. When orbit is achieved, they will be approximately 117 million miles away from Earth. Read more from NASA

Check out this video of Vesta captured by Dawn on approach and released by NASA on June 13, 2001.

Check out NASA’s page of highlights from the Dawn mission here.

Below is a NASA animation of the Dawn mission, which includes stops at both Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.

Check out the rest of NASA’s current missions here.