CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—Four months after their $500 million satellite failed to settle into its target orbit, European space scientists are hoping to salvage as much as half of the data that they expected to receive from the Hipparcos mission. Their optimism is based on weeks of hard work modifying the hardware and software that control the astronomical observatory to mitigate the scientific impact of the satellite’s failure to reach its proper orbit.

Ironically, the reduced flow of information from Hipparcos has made theirjob somewhat easier. “We have less data, so what we do have we can examine more carefully,” says astronomer Floor van Leeuwen of the Royal Greenwich Observatory.

Van Leeuwen is one of more than 100 scientists from 13 nations in the European Space Agency (ESA) who have spent most of the decade preparing for the launch of Hipparcos. Its mission is to measure the position of nearly a half-million...

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