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NEAR Shoemaker was launched on February 17, 1996. The spacecraft entered orbit around the asteroid Eros on February 14, 2000, and began its year-long orbit of the asteroid to determine its mass, structure, geology, composition, gravity, and magnetic field. Eros is one of the largest near-Earth asteroids whose orbit will someday cross that of Earth's. These bodies are of interest because they contain clues to the origin and evolution of small bodies and the inner planets, including Earth.

Launched on February 7, 1999, Stardust is the first space mission dedicated solely to studying a comet. For the first time ever, comet dust and interstellar dust particles will be collected during a close encounter with Comet Wild 2 and returned back to Earth for analysis by scientists worldwide. STARDUST will make three loops around the sun before its closest approach to the comet in January 2004. er 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 parachute for a soft landing at the U.S. Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range in 2006.

DEEP SPACE 1 (DS1) The primary purpose of this mission is to test new technologies in space including an ion drive rocket engine, a new type of solar panel that concentrates sunlight, and an autonomous navigation system that uses the known positions of well observed asteroids to guide the spacecraft to its destinations Launched on October 25, 1998, the DS1 spacecraft flew past asteroid (9969) Braille on July 28, 1999 but camera problems limited the data received during this encounter. When the star tracker, a dev ice used to navigate the spacecraft, became inoperable, the imaging camera was programmed to carry out the necessary navigation functions. The spacecraft is scheduled to fly past comet 19P/ Borrelly on September 23, 2001.

The Comet Nucleus Tour, or CONTOUR, mission launched from Cape Canaveral on July 3, 2002. Six weeks later, on August 15, contact with th e spacecraft was lost after a planned maneuver that was intended to propel it out of Earth orbit and into its comet-chasing solar orbit. The investigation board concluded the most likely cause was structural failure of the spacecraft due to plume heating during the embedded solid-rocket motor burn.

The Deep Impact mission will send a large copper projectile crashing into the surface of a comet at more than 20,000 miles per hour, creating a huge crater and revealing never before seen materials and the internal composition and structure of a comet. his will be the first experiment to probe deep beneath the surface of a comet and will permit a variety of instruments, both onboard the spacecraft and at ground-based and space-based observatories, to study the resulting debris and pristine interior material.

The MUSES-C mission to a near-Earth asteroid is being managed by the Japanese Institute for Space and Astronautical Sciences (ISAS) with NASA providing some technical assistance. The spacecraft will rendezvous with near-Earth asteroid 25143 Itokawa in June 2005. After a stay of about five months, MUSES-C will return to Earth in June 2007 with an asteroid surface sample of a few grams. ISAS is responsible for the mission management, mission design and operations as well as the spacecraft development. The NASA participation involves spacecraft tracking by NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN), some navigation support and participation on the MUSES-C Science Team.

The Rosetta mission is being designed and managed by the European Space Agency (ESA). Launched on March 2, 2004, the Rosetta spacecraft will rendezvous and land upon the surface of comet Churymov-Gerasimenko in late 2014. The comet's nucleus will be studied remotely and with the aid of a sophisticated landed instrument package.


Last updated August 9, 2004
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