Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Stardust Spacecraft Passes By Comet, Makes Great Catch ... Heads For Touchdown

Date:
January 5, 2004
Source:
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Summary:
Team Stardust, NASA's first dedicated sample return mission to a comet, passed a huge milestone by successfully navigating through the particle and gas-laden coma around comet Wild 2. During the hazardous traverse, the spacecraft flew within about 230 kilometers (143 miles) of the comet, catching samples of comet particles and scoring detailed pictures of Wild 2's pockmarked surface.

Comet Wild 2 is shown in this image taken by the Stardust navigation camera during the spacecraft's closest approach to the comet on January 2.

January 2, 2003 -- Team Stardust, NASA's first dedicated sample return mission to a comet, passed a huge milestone today by successfully navigating through the particle and gas-laden coma around comet Wild 2 (pronounced "Vilt-2"). During the hazardous traverse, the spacecraft flew within about 230 kilometers (143 miles) of the comet, catching samples of comet particles and scoring detailed pictures of Wild 2's pockmarked surface.

Closest approach was at about 19:22 Universal Time (11:22 a.m. Pacific Standard Time). The spacecraft's radio signal was received on Earth 21 minutes and 40 seconds later, at 11:44 a.m. PST.

"Things couldn't have worked better in a fairy tale," said Tom Duxbury, Stardust project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"These images are better than we had hoped for in our wildest dreams," said Ray Newburn of JPL, a co-investigator for Stardust. "They will help us better understand the mechanisms that drive conditions on comets."

"These are the best pictures ever taken of a comet," said Principal Investigator Dr. Don Brownlee of the University of Washington, Seattle. "Although Stardust was designed to be a comet sample return mission, the fantastic details shown in these images greatly exceed our expectations."

The collected particles, stowed in a sample return capsule onboard Stardust, will be returned to Earth for in-depth analysis. That dramatic event will occur on January 15, 2006, when the capsule makes a soft landing at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range. The microscopic particle samples of comet and interstellar dust collected by Stardust will be taken to the planetary material curatorial facility at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, for analysis.

Stardust has traveled about 3.22 billion kilometers (2 billion miles) since its launch on February 7, 1999. As it closed the final gap with its cometary quarry, it endured a bombardment of particles surrounding the nucleus of comet Wild 2. To protect Stardust against the blast of expected cometary particles and rocks, the spacecraft rotated so it was flying in the shadow of its "Whipple Shields." The shields are named for American astronomer Dr. Fred L. Whipple, who, in the 1950s, came up with the idea of shielding spacecraft from high-speed collisions with the bits and pieces ejected from comets. The system includes two bumpers at the front of the spacecraft -- which protect Stardust's solar panels -- and another shield protecting the main spacecraft body. Each shield is built around composite panels designed to disperse particles as they impact, augmented by blankets of a ceramic cloth called Nextel that further dissipate and spread particle debris.

"Everything occurred pretty much to the minute," said Duxbury. "And with our cometary encounter complete, we invite everybody to tune in about one million, 71 thousand minutes from now when Stardust returns to Earth, bringing with it the first comet samples in the history of space exploration."

Scientists believe in-depth terrestrial analysis of the samples will reveal much about comets and the earliest history of the solar system. Chemical and physical information locked within the cometary particles could be the record of the formation of the planets and the materials from which they were made. More information on the Stardust mission is available at http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov .

Stardust, a part of NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost, highly focused science missions, was built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, Colo., and is managed by JPL for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Stardust Spacecraft Passes By Comet, Makes Great Catch ... Heads For Touchdown." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 January 2004. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/01/040105065947.htm>.
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (2004, January 5). Stardust Spacecraft Passes By Comet, Makes Great Catch ... Heads For Touchdown. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 26, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/01/040105065947.htm
NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Stardust Spacecraft Passes By Comet, Makes Great Catch ... Heads For Touchdown." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/01/040105065947.htm (accessed July 26, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

This Week @ NASA, July 25, 2014

NASA (July 25, 2014) Apollo 11 celebration, Next Giant Leap anticipation, ISS astronauts appear in the House and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space to Ground: Coming and Going

Space to Ground: Coming and Going

NASA (July 25, 2014) One station cargo ship leaves, another arrives, aquatic research and commercial spinoffs. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
How A Solar Flare Could Have Wrecked Earth's Electronics

How A Solar Flare Could Have Wrecked Earth's Electronics

Newsy (July 25, 2014) Researchers say if Earth had been a week earlier in its orbit around the sun, it would have taken a direct hit from a 2012 coronal mass ejection. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

AP (July 23, 2014) The Progress 56 cargo ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday. NASA says it will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins