Colorado

Mar 24, 2011 3:40 PM by Greg Boyce

Comet-hunting probe to shut down

DENVER (AP) - NASA's comet-hunting Stardust space probe is performing one more experiment before it shuts down and ends its 12-year voyage through space.

Engineers at Lockheed Martin in Denver, where Stardust was built, will tell the spacecraft to burn all its remaining fuel on Thursday. How long that takes will tell them how accurate their fuel calculations were, which will help with the design of future probes.  Spacecraft don't carry fuel gauges because they don't work in zero gravity.

Stardust flew through a cloud of dust and gas enveloping the Wild 2 comet in 2004, captured a sample and sent it back to Earth in a parachute-equipped canister for study. NASA then recycled Stardust, sending it past an asteroid to photograph a crater left by a projectile launched by another space probe.

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