Skip Navigation: Avoid going through Home page links and jump straight to content
NASA Logo - Jet Propulsion Laboratory    + View the NASA Portal
Search Stardust  
JPL Home Earth Solar System Stars & Galaxies Technology
Stardust Banner
Overview Mission Science Technology Newsroom Education Gallery Links Stardust Home
Weekly Status
Press Releases
Press Kits
Stardust in the News
Team Biographies
Media Contacts

STARDUST Mission To Start Spacecraft Assembly & Test

From The "JPL Universe"
January 9, 1998

Stardust, the "faster, better, cheaper" Discovery Program mission that will send a spacecraft to gather a sample from a comet, has met the milestones necessary to begin assembly and test of the spacecraft hardware and software in early January at Lockheed Martin Astronautics in Denver.

Scheduled for launch in February 1999, the Stardust spacecraft will embark on a seven-year journey through the coma and to within about 150 kilometers of the nucleus of Comet Wild- 2 (pronounced "VILT-2). It will be the first space mission to gather dust and other material from a comet and bring it back to Earth for scientific analysis.

Stardust's scientific bounty from its five-year voyage will also include samples of the interstellar dust that passes through the solar system. Return of this interstellar material will provide scientists with their first opportunity for laboratory study of the composition of the interstellar medium.

"We've experienced good cost and schedule performance in 1997," said Stardust Project Manager Dr. Kenneth Atkins. "We've learned lessons from previous Discovery projects like Mars Pathfinder, and we've been working to leverage common efficiencies with the other Mars projects being worked by JPL and Lockheed Martin." The project finalized its designs in June and has completed and collected almost all the hardware and software components in preparation for the system assembly and test, Atkins said.

In February, Stardust mission engineers from JPL and Lockheed Martin will convene for a parachute drop test for the Stardust sample return reentry capsule system on the snowy desert plateau of the Utah Test and Training Range near Salt Lake City. The test range is the scheduled delivery site for Stardust's sample return in January 2006.

Comet Wild-2 is a 'fresh' comet that was recently (in 1974) deflected by Jupiter's gravity from an earlier orbit lying much farther out in the solar system. Having spent most of the last 4.6 billion years in the coldest, most distant reaches of the solar system, Wild-2 represents a well-preserved example of the fundamental building blocks out of which the solar system formed.

Both the comet and interstellar dust samples will be collected in aerogel, a lightweight transparent silica gel, the lowest density solid material in the world. (Aerogel was most recently used as a lightweight insulating material to protect the Mars Pathfinder Sojourner's electronics from the harsh, cold climate of Mars.)

In November, the project received tens of thousands of responses to its invitation to the public to "send your name to a comet." JPL's Microdevices Lab will etch the names on a silicon wafer that will be placed on the Stardust reentry capsule. The names, collected in partnership with The Planetary Society, will make a round trip to Comet Wild 2, returning to Earth in the sample return capsule.

Last Updated: November 26, 2003
Privacy F.A.Q. Contact Sitemap Credit
FIRST GOV + Freedom of Information Act
+ The President's Management Agenda
+ FY 2002 Agency Performance and accountability report
+ NASA Privacy Statement, Disclaimer, and Accessiblity Certification
+ Freedom to Manage
NASA Home Page Site Manager:
Aimee Whalen

Ron Baalke