Deep Space 1, while being the first space probe to use ion propulsion as its primary drive, is not the first use of that technology in space. At the time of DS1's launch, there were 17 orbital communication satellites (11 belonging to the United States, 6 to Russia) that use ion propulsion to help maintain or correct their orbits.

DS1 also set a record for most accumulated engine usage of a space vehicle on August 17, 2000. At that point its engines had been running for 200 days, and are expected to last over 500 days before the end of its mission.