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Stardust Mission to Asteroids Stardust Mission to Comets

Mission Type: Flyby, Sample Return
Launch Vehicle: Delta 7426-9.5 (no. D266)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Fla., USA
NASA Center: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Spacecraft Mass: 385 kg (848 lbs) total, consisting of 254-kg (560-lb) spacecraft and 46-kg (101-lb) return capsule, plus 85 kg (187 lbs) fuel.
Spacecraft Instruments: 1) Aerogel Collector ?Grid
2) Cometary and Interstellar Dust Analyzer (CIDA)
?3) Navigation Camera (NavCam)
?4) Dust Flux Monitor (DFMI)
Spacecraft Dimensions: Main bus 1.7 m (5.6 feet) high, 0.66 m (2.16 feet) wide, 0.66 m (2.16 feet) deep; length of solar arrays 4.8 m (15.9 feet) tip to tip; sample return capsule 0.8 m (32 inches) diameter and 0.5 m (21 inches) high.
Spacecraft Power: Solar panels
Maximum Power: 170 to 800 watts, depending on distance from sun.
Maximum Data Rate: 4,000 bits per second
Principal Scientists: Dr. Donald Brownlee, Univ. of Washington (Stardust) and Dr. Joseph Veverka, Cornell University (Stardust-NExT)?
Total Cost: Primary mission: $128.4 million, spacecraft development; $37.2 million, mission operations; total $165.6 million (not including launch vehicle). Mission of Opportunity: $29 million
Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, by Asif A. Siddiqi

Startdust Launch Press Kit (1996)

Stardust Encounter Press Kit (2004)

Stardust Sample Return Press Kit (2006)

Stardust-NExT Encounter Press Kit (2010)

Stardust was the fourth of NASA's Discovery Program of low cost exploration missions (after NEAR, Mars Pathfinder and Lunar Prospector). The primary goal of the Stardust mission was to collect interstellar dust and carbon-based samples of 10 microns or less from the nucleus of comet Wild-2 (pronounced Vilt-2) during its closest encounter and return them back to Earth for analysis.

While in flight, Stardust also collected samples of interstellar dust grains. Stardust collected the samples using a low-density microporous silica-based substance known as Aerogel.

The spacecraft was launched into heliocentric orbit and performed midcourse corrections on 28 December 1999 and 18 January, 20 January and 22 January 2000. Its first interstellar dust collection operation was carried out between 22 February and 1 May 2000. After approximately a year in heliocentric orbit, Stardust flew by Earth for a gravity-assist (closest approach to Earth was at 11:13 UT on 15 January 2001 at a range of 6,012 km) to send it on a second sample-collection exercise between July and December 2002.

Stardust encountered comet Wild-2 on 2 January 2004, when the spacecraft flew 236 km (about 147 miles) from Wild-2. The flyby yielded the most detailed, high-resolution comet images taken to date.

The spacecraft approached Earth on 15 January 2006 and jettisoned the capsule containing particles from the comet and interstellar dust. The capsule landed safely and on-target, 73-miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, within the Utah Test and Training Range on the US Army Dugway Proving Grounds, completing the world's first sample return from a comet. The spacecraft, responding to commands from the mission's navigators, flew past Earth and began an orbit around the sun that would bring it near the planet every 3 years.

In May 2009, NASA repurposed the spacecraft to to fly past comet Tempel 1 to collect images and other scientific data improving upon the data set previously collected by Deep Impact. The Stardust spacecraft traveled about 21 million km (13 million miles) in its journey about the sun in the weeks following the 14 February 2011 comet Tempel 1 flyby, making the grand total from launch to its final rocket burn about 5.69 billion km (3.54 billion miles).

Mission Websites


Key Dates
7 Feb 1999:  Launch (21:04:15 UT)
2 Jan 2004:  Comet Wild 2 Encounter
15 Jan 2006:  Earth Sample Return
14 Feb 2011:  Comet Tempel-1 Flyby
Status: Successful
Fast Facts
Stardust Facts Stardust is the first mission to return samples from a comet.

Aerogel (right), the material used to capture comet samples, has been certified by Guinness World Records as the world's lightest solid.

Aerogel is made of the same basic material as glass, but it is much lighter because it is 99.8 percent air.

Scientists discovered glycine, a fundamental building block of life, in samples of comet Wild 2 returned by the Stardust spacecraft.

The particles were traveling at about 6 km per second -- six times the speed of a bullet -- when they were captured by Stardust's sample collector.
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Last Updated: 2 Dec 2014