Space probe set for new encounter with comet

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S deep-space probe Giotto is now only days away from a second comet encounter, writes Alan Smith of PA.

British Aerospace, which designed and built the pounds 40m spacecraft, said today that everything was 'looking good' for the fly- past on Friday of the Grigg- Skjellerup comet 133 million miles from Earth.

The meeting marks a 4-billion- mile space journey since Giotto was launched seven years ago as the first inter-planetary probe for the European Space Agency. It made history on its first mission to intercept and photograph Halley's Comet in March 1986.

Scientists were delighted that it survived its near-collision course, although the craft was severely damaged by comet debris which knocked out three on- board experiments. A hi-tech camera was one of the casualties.

Giotto was put into 'hibernation' orbit while scientists planned its second mission and checked the seven remaining experiments designed to evaluate comets. Grigg-Skjellerup is a 'Jupiter class' comet with a five-year orbit, in contrast to the 76-year appearance of Halley's Comet.

Giotto was said today to be travelling at 50,000 kilometres an hour. When its instruments measure the comet's magnetic field they will send back information at 46,000 bits a second. BAe project director David Link, who led the 10-nation team that designed and built Giotto, said: 'We are witnessing one of the great achievements in space exploration.'