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Current Missions - Stardust

Stardust

Spacecraft
Launch: February 7, 1999
Mass: 385 kilograms (848 pounds) total, consisting of 254-kilogram (560-pound) spacecraft and 46-kilogram (101-pound) sample return capsule, plus 85 kilograms (187 pounds) fuel
Science-related subsystems: Aerogel dust collectors, sample return capsule, comet and interstellar dust analyzer, dust flux monitor, navigation camera

Overview

In the early 1990s, NASA established a program called Discovery to competitively select proposals for low-cost solar system exploration missions with highly focused science goals. Stardust, the fourth Discovery mission, is sending a spacecraft to fly through the cloud of dust that surrounds the nucleus of a comet -- and, for the first time ever, bring cometary material back to Earth.

Stardust is the first U.S. mission dedicated solely to a comet and will be the first to return extraterrestrial material from outside the orbit of the Moon. Stardust's main objective is to capture a sample from a well-preserved comet called Wild-2 (pronounced "Vilt-2").

Launched February 7, 1999 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a Delta II rocket, Stardust collected interstellar dust as it flew through the solar system in spring 2000. On January 15, 2001, the spacecraft executed a flyby of Earth. In summer and fall 2002, the spacecraft will again collect interstellar dust.

On January 2, 2004, Stardust will fly through comet Wild-2 and collect cometary particles for analysis. On January 15, 2006, samples of comet and interstellar dust will be delivered in a return capsule that will land in the Utah desert. Through the course of the entire mission, Stardust will have flown a total of 5.2 billion kilometers (3.2 billion miles).

Managed by JPL, the mission is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Donald C. Brownlee of the University of Washington. The spacecraft was designed and built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver.

For more information, see the Stardust home page.

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