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An artist's conception of Deep Space 1
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NASA Tests New Technologies with Deep Space 1
News story originally written on October 25, 1998

NASA launched a spacecraft that will test twelve new technologies, including an ion propulsion drive and an artificial intelligence navigation system. In testing the new equipment, it will fly past the Near-Earth Asteroid 1992 KD. If all goes well, the mission may be extended to include fly-bys of Comets Wilson-Harrington and Borrelly.

The spacecraft, Deep Space 1, is the first launch from NASA's New Millennium program, a program which will test new technology with the hopes of making space travel easier and more affordable. "Deep Space 1 is taking the risks so that future missions don't have to," said Marc Rayman, chief engineer and deputy mission manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The engines will ionize xenon gas and accelerate it through an electric field to speeds of 65,000 mph. The thrust will exert less force than the weight of a single piece of paper. But, this is still enough to accelerate the spacecraft about 20 mph each day. Since there isn't air resistance in the vacuum of space, the speed will continue to build.

Ion-propulsion engines are ten times more efficient than regular rockets engines. The probe will use solar energy to ionize the xenon and accelerate it. While normal rocket engines operate on the order of minutes, the ion engine will operate on the order of weeks.

Deep Space 1 will also control its own destiny, in a manner of speaking. It has an onboard navigation system which can locate stars and calculate its position, rather than relying on ground operators to tell it where it is. The probe will also determine how close to the asteroid it can safely fly.

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