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Stardust Mission Status
Stardust Mission Status
22 Feb 2000
(Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

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NASA's Stardust spacecraft has successfully deployed its aerogel collector, enabling it to begin collecting interstellar dust from a stream of particles that flows through our solar system.

Data from the spacecraft indicate that the deployment timeline was followed precisely, and all systems are operating normally. The heat shield on the spacecraft's sample return capsule opened, then a motor moved the aerogel collector out of the capsule. At that point, a second motor extended the collector fully to its collection position. This raised it high enough so that Stardust would be able to collect samples of comet dust when it flies by Comet Wild-2 in 2004. After deployment, however, engineers commanded the spacecraft to retract the collector by about 50 degrees to position it correctly for the current interstellar dust collection.

The aerogel collector has two sides, one designed to gather interstellar dust, while the other is for comet dust collection. Engineers can control which side of the collector is exposed to a dust stream by orienting the spacecraft. Right now, Stardust is oriented so that the interstellar dust particles are hitting the backside of the collector. The current interstellar dust collection will continue through at least May 25. After that, it will be returned to its stowed position until mid-2002, when another period of interstellar dust collection is scheduled.

After Stardust collects comet dust samples from Wild-2 in 2004, all the samples captured in the aerogel collector will be retracted into the sample return capsule. They will then be returned to Earth via a soft landing at the U.S. Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range in 2006.

Stardust was launched on February 7, 1999. The principal investigator for the mission is Dr. Donald C. Brownlee of the University of Washington. The mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, CO, built and operates the spacecraft. Science instruments were provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Chicago and the Max Planck Institute, Garching, Germany. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

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Last Updated: 5 Jun 2001