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Overhead view of the solar system showing Stardust's current position

Stardust Sets New Record For Solar-Powered Spacecraft

On October 2, 2001, Stardust, NASA's Discovery mission to collect dust from a comet's nucleus, became the first mission to travel past the 2.35 AU mark (218 million miles or 351 million kilometers) from the Sun on only solar power.

It's not stopping there! In November 2001, Stardust will have traveled two billion kilometers (1.2 million miles) around the solar system since its launch in February 1999. The furthest point that the spacecraft is expected to reach is 2.72 AU from the Sun (253 million miles or 407 million kilometers) in mid-April 2002, before coming around for its expected comet encounter in January 2004. The NEAR spacecraft previously held the record at 2.185 AU (203 million miles or 327 million kilometers) for the furthest distance traveled by a solar-powered spacecraft.

Stardust's only power supply on its long journey to the asteroid belt and back are two solar arrays, which were deployed shortly after the spacecraft's launch on February 7, 1999. They provide 6.6 square meters of solar energy to power the spacecraft. One nickel-hydrogen battery a little bigger than a car battery stores the solar power generated by the solar arrays for use during eclipses and peak power operations.

Last Updated: November 26, 2003
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