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NASA engineers rescue crippled comet chaser

Deep Space 1
Artist concept of Deep Space 1  

(CNN) -- An ailing experimental spacecraft on a deep space mission has resumed powered flight, thanks to an on-the-fly repair by NASA engineers.

After flying blindly for seven months, the revived Deep Space 1 now has a chance to make a planned rendezvous with a comet in September 2001, said mission engineer Marc Rayman this week.

"The entire undertaking has been one of the most challenging yet one of the most successful and impressive robotic space rescues ever," Rayman wrote on the mission Web site.

Two months after completing its primary mission, testing an array of new technologies, Deep Space 1 unexpectedly lost the use of its star tracker navigation system.

Mission engineers managed to restore its sense of direction by writing new computer programs to use an onboard camera instead of the star tracker.

The new method allows the spacecraft to orient itself in part by taking pictures of a reference star, said Rayman, who works at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

After mission controllers ran tests on their novel fix, Deep Space 1 completed its first full week of ion propulsion thrusting this week, according to NASA.

The team elected to "aim for the grand prize of being ready to resume thrusting in July" to give Deep Space 1 a chance to encounter comet Borrelly," Rayman said.

The long hiatus will nonetheless prevent Deep Space 1 from attempting a planned rendezvous with comet Wilson-Harrington in March.

Launched in 1998, Deep Space 1 did manage to fly by asteroid 9969 Braille in July 1999. The spacecraft is about 196 million miles (315 million km) from Earth.



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Space odysseys
June 5, 2000
Orbiter moves closer to asteroid Eros
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January 16, 2000
Deep Space 1 soars
October 24, 1998

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Deep Space 1

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