From the "JPL Universe"
August 22, 1997
Stardust spacecraft passes critical design review
By JANE PLATT
The Stardust mission has successfully passed its critical
design review, which means the spacecraft is right on track for
its launch as the next Discovery mission in February 1999.
Stardust will collect comet dust and interstellar particles for
return to Earth.
"This approval signals that we've finished designing those
mission-unique elements that needed to be designed," said
Stardust Project Manager Dr. Kenneth Atkins. "Our main task now
is to fabricate, build and test the flight and ground systems."
As the third NASA Discovery mission after Near Earth
Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) and Mars Pathfinder, Stardust must
adhere to the "faster, better, cheaper" credo. Atkins explained,
"We've tried to use as much inherited, proven and low cost
subsystem elements as possible. However, we needed to design some
unique elements, such as the means for capturing comet dust and
interstellar particles, something that has never been done
Stardust will loop twice around the Sun and collect
interstellar dust particles before it flies past Comet Wild 2 in
2004. The spacecraft will gather dust particles spewed from the
comet's coma (near the nucleus in the head) and return them to
Earth in 2006, making it the first-ever mission to return
material from a solar system object beyond the moon.
The captured particles will be embedded safely in aerogel, a
sponge-like silica gel which has empty space as 99 percent of its
volume. Aerogel has played a vital role in the Mars Pathfinder
mission by providing thermal insulation for the rover Sojourner
as it meanders around the Martian landing site.
"In a sense, Stardust, like the current Mars mission, is
also a 'pathfinder,'" Atkins said. "While Mars Pathfinder has
proven a low-cost means to land a spacecraft on other planets,
Stardust will pioneer a low-cost technique for returning samples
of extra-terrestrial materials to Earth."
"This represents a new approach to retrieving materials from
the solar system and beyond and returning them to the worldwide
science community," Atkins explained. "The materials can be
studied in the most advanced laboratories and universities."
The precious Stardust cargo will be stored in a capsule
designed to separate from the spacecraft's main body and descend
into Earth's atmosphere, landing in Utah. The main spacecraft
will continue in orbit around the Sun indefinitely.
Scientists are anxious to study comet dust because comets,
rich in organic compounds, are the most primitive bodies in the
solar system and may teach us more about the birth of the planets
and the formation of life.
NASA has already spent about $60 million and will spend an
additional $68 million on spacecraft development before the
February 1999 launch date. The seven-year flight operations to
the comet and back will add another $37 million. The solar-
powered Stardust will be launched on the low-cost Delta II Rocket
provided by McDonnell-Douglas, keeping the project solidly in the
Discovery class of missions.
Stardust Principal Investigator Dr. Don Brownlee of the
University of Washington leads the team collaborating on
Stardust. The spacecraft and sample return capsule are being
built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver.
JPL manages the mission for NASA's Office of Space Science;
JPL is also developing the spacecraft's navigational camera and
providing the aerogel for the sample collection. Stardust's
cometary and interstellar dust analyzer instrument is provided by
Jochen Kissel through the Max Planck Institute in Germany.
Last Updated: November 26, 2003