An artist's conception of Deep Space 1
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Image courtesy of NASA

NASA Tests New Technologies with Deep Space 1
News story originally written on October 25, 1998

NASA launched a spacecraft called Deep Space 1 that is going to test twelve new technologies. Among the twelve are a different type of engine and a smart navigation system. The spacecraft will test the equipment while it flies to a nearby asteroid.

The engines use xenon gas as a propellant. Solar panels collect the sun's energy and use it to give the xenon gas an electric charge. The gas is then accelerated through an electric field to speeds around 65,000 mph. The thrust that is produced is less than the weight of a piece of paper but it will still accelerate the spacecraft about 20 mph each day. It's speed will continually build up because there isn't any air resistance in the vacuum of space. The ion-propulsion engines are ten times more efficient than regular rocket engines.

Deep Space 1 will also have an onboard navigation system. It will keep track of a number of stars and be able to calculate its position. Before, spacecraft had to rely on people at NASA to tell them where they were. The craft will also determine how close it can safely fly to the asteroid.

If everything goes well with the asteroid flyby, the mission may be extended to include flybys of two nearby comets.

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