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Nasa winds down 'comet hunter'

Nasa has ordered its comet-hunting Stardust probe to burn its remaining fuel, setting off a series of events that will shut down the spacecraft after a 12-year career.

Engineers gave the order from Lockheed Martin's Denver complex, where Stardust was built.

Then, ground controllers lost radio contact with the space probe for the last time.

Stardust performed one last experiment by telling engineers how much fuel it had left. That tells them how accurate their fuel calculations were and help with the design of future probes.

Spacecraft do not carry fuel gauges because they do not work in zero gravity.

Stardust was launched in 1999. It completed its primary mission in 2004 by flying through a cloud of dust and gas enveloping the Wild 2 comet and capturing samples.

Those were sent to Earth for study via a parachute-equipped canister.

Nasa then recycled Stardust, sending it past another comet last month to photograph a crater.

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From Belfast Telegraph