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Deep Space One
Saturday, January 03, 2004
Although the space missions in the news are the Mars Rovers and the Stardust comet encounter mission, I think a little credit needs to be given to the Deep Space One mission. Despite having been retired a little over two years ago, DS1 continues to have an influence on modern mission design.
Deep space one was a NASA/JPL mission that encountered an asteroid and a comment, over the course of its primary, extended, and "hyperextended" missions. However, it's primary purpose was not really to return science, but to evaluate technologies that can be used for other missions.
This week's missions demonstrate two of the technologies pioneered by DS1. The photos of the comet's core taken by Stardust (see my previous post) were taken autonomously, with a computer program deciding where to point the cameras. The code that pointed those cameras is derived from the same code that ran on DS1.
Another technology pioneered by DS1 was the use of beacon tones to monitor spacecraft status. By sending carrier waves at varying frequencies instead of a data signal, a spacecraft can send a message to earth in very non-favorable circumstances. The MERs will be transmitting these beacon tones as they land, allowing us to find out what happened tonight, rather than waiting for contact that may not come.
These are just two of the technologies tested. Planned missions will use others, like the propulsive ion drive.
Finally, no blog post about DS1 would be complete without a mention of Dr. Marc Rayman's mission log. This was an early blog-like way of letting people know what was going on with the mission. Instead of the standard (and boring) status reports and press releases, web pages were written to be both interesting and informative for people who aren't rocket scientists.
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