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[Mission Flight Plan | Encounter with Comet Wild 2 | Data Collection | Drop Test | Earth Return]

Earth Return Sequence of Events

Sample Earth Return Phase Design
This phase of the STARDUST mission begins two weeks before Earth re-entry and ends when the SRC is transferred to its ground-handling team. The planned landing site is the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR). Following touchdown, the SRC will be recovered by helicopter or ground vehicles and transported to a staging area at UTTR for retrieval of the sample canister. The canister will then be transported to a dedicated Stardust handling and curation laboratory at Johnson Space Center. The Earth Return is divided into four subphases:

  • Earth Approach
  • Entry
  • Terminal Descent
  • Recovery


Earth Return Timeline

Time            Event Description 
E - 67 days     Navigation cutoff for TCM at E-60d
E - 60 days     TCM to remove accumulated flight errors
E - 37 days     Navigation cutoff for TCM at E-30d
E - 30 days     TCM to cleanup residual flight errors and set 
                up direction bias for next TCM
E - 19 days     On Low Gain Antenna at similiar Sun-relative 
                attitude as required for SRC Release
E - 13 days     Navigation cutoff for TCM at E-10d
E - 10 days     TCM to perforum preliminary entry
E - 44 hours    Navigation cutoff for TCM at E-1.5d
E - 36 hours    TCM to perform final entry targeting
E - 7.5 hours   Go/No-go Decision for SRC release
E - 4 hours     SRC spin release (spin rate of 14 to 20 rpm)
E - 3.7 hours   Spacecraft divert maneuver 
                (to prevent spacecraft entry)

Earth Approach

Earth Approach Subphase
Beginning with Earth Approach, the period of near-continuous DSN tracking commences. During this period two TCMs are involved nominally: at ER (Earth reentry) -10 d, ER-36 hr. The SRC will be released at ER-4 hr after the last TCM and will enter the atmosphere at a nominal entry angle of -8.2°. The approach velocity to Earth will be approximately 6.4 km/s with a right ascension of 205.7°, a declination of 11.1°, and velocity at entry (assumed to be at an altitude of 125 km) of 12.8 km/s. The entry corridor control accuracy attainable, based on the Navigation Plan, is 0.08°.

The spacecraft will perform a divert maneuver subsequent to the SRC release to avoid entering the atmosphere.


Entry Subphase
Entry begins when the spacecraft reorients for SRC release from the spacecraft bus and ends with parachute deployment. The SRC will be released from the spacecraft bus approximately 4 hours before entry. Significant activities include verifying spacecraft attitude, depassivating the batteries, initiating the SRC on-board timer/sequencer, turning off spacecraft-bus-provided heater power to the SRC, cutting the connecting cable and releasing the SRC.

The SRC will perform a direct entry at Earth. After entry the SRC will continue to free-fall until approximately 3 km, at which point the parachute deployment sequence will initiate. Elapsed time from entry to parachute deploy will be approximately 10 minutes.


Terminal Descent - SRC with Parachute

Terminal Descent Subphase
Descent begins when the parachute deployment sequence initiates and continues until the SRC/parachute system has descended into the recovery zone, the UTTR.

The velocity of the SRC must be reduced from the initial entry velocity of 12.8 km/s to a level that permits soft landing.

The aeroshell removes over 99% of the initial kinetic energy of the vehicle to protect the sample canister against the resultant extreme aerodynamic heating. The heatshield is a 60° half-angle blunt cone made of a graphite/epoxy composite covered with a thermal protection system. Ablative material on the backshell protects the lander from the effects of recirculation flow around the entry vehicle.

Taking into account SRC release and entry corridor uncertainties, vehicle aerodynamics uncertainties and atmospheric dispersions, the landing footprint ellipse for the SRC has been determined to be approximately 30 km by 84 km. The SRC will approach the UTTR on a heading of approximately 122° on a north-west to south-east trajectory. Local time of landing will be approximately 3:00 am.


Landing Site


Ground Recovery

Recovery Subphase
Recovery begins a few hours before the SRC touches down. Retrieval is via ground transportation or helicopter. Given the small size and mass of the SRC, it is not expected that its recovery and transportation will require extraordinary handling measures or hardware other than a specialized handling fixture to cradle the capsule during transport. A gas sample from the canister will be taken for volatile monitoring. Transportation of the SRC to a staging area at the UTTR for packing. The sample return capsule then will be transported to its final destination, the planetary material curatorial facility at Johnson Space Center.



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[Mission Flight Plan | Encounter with Comet Wild 2 | Data Collection | Drop Test | Earth Return]
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