Feeds

Stardust comet hunter drifts off into space

Veteran spacecraft burns to depletion and shuts itself down

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

The last transmission from NASA's comet-hunting Stardust came last night at 23:33 GMT, as the venerable spacecraft ended its career with a "burn to depletion maneuver".

The veteran of two cometary encounters – with Wild 2 and Tempel 1 – provided NASA with valuable last data on just how much fuel it had left in its tanks as it wrapped its 12-year journey.

The agency didn't know exactly just how much hydrazine propellant remained, because "no one has invented an entirely reliable fuel gauge for spacecraft". Accordingly, scientists hoped Stardust's swansong burn would provide them with a figure they could compare with estimates to form "a better idea how valid our fuel consumption models are and make our predictions even more accurate for future missions".

Stardust-NExT project manager Tim Larson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: "Stardust has been teaching us about our solar system since it was launched in 1999. It makes sense that its very last moments would be providing us with data we can use to plan deep space mission operations in the future."

Allan Cheuvront, Lockheed Martin Space Systems programme manager for Stardust-NExT, confirmed: "Stardust motors burned for 146 seconds. We'll crunch the numbers and see how close the reality matches up with our projections. That will be a great data set to have in our back pocket when we plan for future missions."

Once the burn finished and Stardust had transmitted its last message, it turned off its radios and, without attitude control keeping its solar panels facing the Sun, slowly died as its batteries ran down.

Artist's impression of Stardust. Pic: NASA

Stardust's mission ended 194 million miles (312 million kilometres) from Earth, and NASA assures that it won't come within 1.7 million miles (2.7 million kilometres) of Earth's orbit in the next 100 years.

A slightly tearful Larson concluded: "This kind of feels like the end of one of those old Western movies where you watch the hero ride his horse towards the distant setting sun – and then the credits begin to roll. Only there's no setting sun in space."

NASA's main Stardust section is right here. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
India's MOM Mars mission makes final course correction
Mangalyaan probe will feel the burn of orbital insertion on September 24th
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
'Duck face' selfie in SPAAAACE: Rosetta's snap with bird comet
Probe prepares to make first landing on fast-moving rock
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.