NASA's first art to orbit a dwarf planet that retires after 11 years

An artist's impression of NASA's Dawn spacecraft

NASA's Dawn mission, which saw the spacecraft become the first to orbit a dwarf planet, will come to an end in the coming weeks when Dawn runs out of fuel.

The spacecraft exceeded the expectations of scientists, gathered impressive images and performed unprecedented exploits of spacecraft engineering over the course of 11 years, the US space agency said.

Launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in September 2007, it explored two planetary-like bodies, Ceres and Vesta, which make up 45 percent of the mass of the main asteroid belt that surrounds the Earth.

Dawn is expected to run out of hydrazine, a key fuel, sometime between mid-September and mid-October.

The ship will lose its ability to communicate with Earth. But it will remain in a silent orbit around Ceres for decades.

"While it will be sad to see Dawn's departure from our mission family, we are very proud of her many accomplishments," said Lori Glaze, interim director of the planetary science division at NASA headquarters in Washington.

"Not only did this spacecraft unlock scientific secrets in these two small but significant worlds, it was also the first spacecraft to visit and orbit bodies in two extraterrestrial destinations during its mission," he added.

The mission cost $ US473 million from start to finish.

Its main components originated in Europe.

Two multispectral cameras that allow the ship to capture images were made in Germany, and the Italian space agency provided the ship's spectrometer.