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

NASA Tests New Technologies with Deep Space 1

We are far too quick to report disasters when it comes to space exploration...but here's a definite success!

NASA launched a spacecraft called Deep Space 1 on October 15, 1998. Deep Space 1 tested twelve new technologies, including a different type of engine and a smart navigation system. The spacecraft tested the equipment while it flew to a nearby asteroid, called Braille.

The engines on Deep Space 1 used xenon gas as a propellant. Solar panels collected the Sun's energy and used it to give the xenon gas an electric charge. The gas was then accelerated through an electric field to speeds around 65,000 mph (miles per hour). The thrust that was produced was less than the weight of a piece of paper but it still accelerated the spacecraft about 20 mph each day. Its speed continued to build up because there isn't any air resistance in the vacuum of space. Ion-propulsion engines are ten times more efficient than regular rocket engines.

Deep Space 1 also had an onboard navigation system. It kept track of a number of stars and could calculate its own position. Normally, spacecraft have to rely on people at NASA to tell them where they are.

Things went so well in the first two years of the mission, that NASA decided to send Deep Space 1 to visit comet Borrelly in September 2001. It took really great pictures of this comet!

The Deep Space mission ended on December 18, 2001.

Last modified January 9, 2002 by Jennifer Bergman.

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