back to article Stardust comet hunter drifts off into space

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 …


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  1. IglooDude

    It is a bit sad...

    Reminds me of a certain Mars rover:

  2. ColinP


    I know it's totally irrational, but I feel sad for those space probes that reach the end of their lives and are sent off to "die" or slowly fade away. Spirit, Galileo, the Voyager probes, etc. have all advanced human knowledge of the solar system by so much, performed magnificently and beyond their predicted lives, but are gone forever.

    When Hubble is finally de-orbited, I'll probably hold a vigil and shed a wee tear.

    1. Justin S.

      Re: Sad

      Indeed, though it might surprise you to know that we are *still* in communication with both of the Voyager craft, and that they are still sending us useful information.

  3. Richard 23

    Silent Running, anyone?

    Those poor little robots

  4. Rusty Ron

    Sorry but wont fit in the green bin

    It has been recently noticed by recycling plant 'ever-green recycling - for all your outta atmosphere recycling needs' that they are having a problem with keeping track of all the space debri now littering the solar system. A spokeman for the company was herd to express his concern that the amount of 'Cr*p' out there has the got so bad, that we can no longer monitor it all from earth due to the density of the debris not allowing us to see what's there any more. It has been decided that they will instead monitor the debri from a new sattilite due to be launched early in 2013 that will keep an eye on all the flotsum that is now floating around the planet and deep into space. With a life expectancy of 5 years the satalite will be used to count any man-made matter greater in size than an office bin. It will also take itself into account and add one to the number it comes to in five years time when its batteries run out and its left to journey around the planet indefinitly.

    Another study has shown that with all of the rubbish that is now out there we are in fact heading towards the probability of creating another moon. The original moon, just about visable on a clear night, was created when two planets hit each other and the resulting debris of the planets reformed over billions of years when caught in the gravitaitonal pull of the each other.

    Its been theorised that all the dross that is now out there will eventially also be pulled together to create a metalic moon. A ever-green recycling expert was herd to say that they are awaiting for this to happen prior to going up and clearing away all the detritous humans have put into space over the last 50 years as it would be a bonaza prize to save for a rainy day and apart from that we may have to wait 5 million years to see if we are right in this assumption.

    Alien becouse: They must have a wicked nav system to get through the junk circling the earth

  5. jai

    Only there's no setting sun in space

    nor credits nor horses for that matter

    "without attitude control keeping its solar panels facing the Sun"

    attitude control? these spacecraft can get agressive if left unsupervised? :)

    1. serviceWithASmile

      pedant alert

      There were plenty of others but only this one irks me -

      it's satellite not satalite.


      Maybe one day the satellite will crash land on an alien planet and destroy an entire city, and one day the wronged Aliens will track us down and attack with an innumerably large battlefleet, only to be accidentally swallowed by a small dog due to an epic miscalculation of scale.

      Or perhaps it will become self-aware and transmit the nuclear launch codes to Skynet.

      Only time will tell.

      But either way, I for one welcome our self aware robot / tiny alien overlords.

    2. Ammaross Danan

      Credits in Space

      "nor credits"

      Yes there IS credits in space. Haven't you seen Star Wars? (of course, that was merely story line...perhaps Star Trek: NG would have been a better example with the opening credits).

    3. Mark Serlin

      who needs a bin?

      we need WALL-E

  6. TeeCee Gold badge

    Fuel gauge.

    I can't see that being too tricky. Put strain gauges in the fuel tank mounts.

    When you apply thrust, the strain gauges will measure how much force is being exerted to push the mass of the tank around, a quick calculation from the applied thrust* will tell you the mass of the thing, subtract mass of tank assembly, rest is fuel.

    Ok, doesn't work when no thrust is applied, but you're not burning fuel then** so the reading at the end of the last burn stands.

    *Engine vagaries can be catered for by using an accelerometer and the known mass of the spacecraft to calculate actual thrust rather than relying on "engine does this much".

    **Unless of course, the spacecraft is fuel cell powered. But you can either meter fuel use there and subtract this from the last tank reading to get an accurate answer or just take it on the chin as insignificant compared to what the engines burn.

  7. Gobhicks

    Sob, gulp, choke

    ... no, no, I'll be alright - just give me a minute....

  8. Calidore

    No, suns don't set in space, but they do explode

    And as Hollywood learned long ago, slowly walking toward a sunset pales in comparison to slowly walking away from a background explosion.

  9. h 6

    Wild 2 and Tempel 1

    I thought I saw them at the disco, once. -h

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