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STARDUST Status Report

October 22, 1999

The STARDUST spacecraft continues to perform normally in cruise sequence SC010. The flight team at Lockheed Martin Astronautics (LMA) had multiple communications sessions with the spacecraft during the past week and were successful in taking 9 Navigation Camera images using 2 exposures and stepping through all 8 filters. The mirror was also successfully moved during this time period, enabling the camera to image stars without looking through the periscope. The images will be downlinked in November during the next scheduled pass using the High Gain Antenna.

STARDUST will be the first spacecraft ever to bring cometary material back to Earth for analysis by scientists worldwide. Comets are believed to contain the original building blocks of the planets and perhaps those of life itself. Early in Earth's history, comets laden with water ice slammed into the planet, maybe providing the source of our oceans. When STARDUST returns its pristine comet samples, scientists will be able to examine for the first time the key ingredients of the original recipe that created the planets.

STARDUST was built Lockheed Martin Astronautics and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California. The principal investigator of the mission is space particle scientist Dr. Donald Brownlee of the University of Washington. Dr. Kenneth Atkins of JPL is the project manager.

STARDUST's main objective is to collect and bring to Earth particles flying off the nucleus of Comet Wild-2 in January 2004. It will also bring back samples of interstellar dust including the recently discovered dust streaming into the solar system from other stars. The spacecraft will send back pictures of Comet Wild-2, count the comet particles striking the spacecraft, and produce real-time analyses of the composition of the material coming off the comet.

A unique substance called aerogel is the medium that will be used to catch and preserve comet samples. When STARDUST swings by Earth in January 2006, the samples encased in a reentry capsule will be jettisoned and parachute to a pre-selected site in the Utah desert.

STARDUST is the fourth under NASA's Discovery Program of low-cost science missions, following Lunar Prospector, Mars Pathfinder and the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR). The goal of NASA's Discovery Program is to launch many smaller missions with shorter development time that perform focused science at lower cost.

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California.

For more information on the STARDUST mission - the first ever comet sample return mission - please visit the STARDUST home page:

Last Updated: November 26, 2003
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