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March 24, 2011

Death of a Spacecraft

Later today around 7, the NASA spacecraft Stardust will fire its engines one last time. The spacecraft was first launched in 1999 and since then it has traveled billions of miles. Throughout its 40 major flight maneuvers, Stardust has collected data on comets. The engines will burn fuel until there's nothing left, and this will be compiled into data which will help NASA determine how much fuel to give spacecrafts in the future depending on how far they are to go. According to NASA's Planetary Protection directives, the spacecraft must be far from entering planets' orbits to ensure that the spacecraft does no harm.

It's interesting that they take so many details into account when they let a spacecraft go. And I always wondered what happened to spacecraft after they're launched and they've been traveling through space for a long time. Some are intentionally sent through the Jovian planets' atmosphere so that they'll be destroyed.

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Posted by brdoss at March 24, 2011 04:09 PM


Yes this is really interesting. Fuel is supposed to be the biggest factor/obstacle in launching spacecrafts into space because it is really heavy and there is only so much that can burnt.

So does this mean there will be enough fuel to launch the craft into space and for it to be captured by an orbit? Once it is in orbit, there is no fuel required.

Posted by: aarthi at March 26, 2011 02:25 PM

Going off the last comment, even if the spacecraft doesn't need energy to stay in orbit, it still needs some way to power its instruments. This makes me wonder what forms of power scientists could use for this. Solar power is an option if exploring an area close enough to the sun, but I wonder what other forms of energy are possible to power instruments on a spacecraft in orbit without a lot of fuel.

Posted by: emslade at March 30, 2011 03:22 PM

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