Stardust Mission Status Report
Ten days before its historic return to Earth with the first-ever
samples from a comet, NASA's Stardust spacecraft successfully
performed its 18th flight path adjustment. This second-to-last
scheduled maneuver puts the spacecraft on the right path to
rendezvous with Earth on Jan. 15 (Universal Time), when it will
release its sample return capsule.
Image right: Artist's concept of Stardust near Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL + Browse version of image
At 1800 Universal Time (10:00 am Pacific Time) on Thursday, Jan. 5,
Stardust fired all eight of its 4.4 newton (1-pound) thrusters for a
total of 107 seconds, changing the comet sampler's speed by 2.4 meters
per second (about 5.4 miles per hour). The maneuver required 385 grams
(0.85 pounds) of hydrazine monopropellant to complete. A final trajectory
correction maneuver is scheduled prior to release of the sample return capsule.
"It was a textbook maneuver,"?said Ed Hirst, Stardust deputy mission
manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "After sifting
through all the post-burn data, I expect we will find ourselves right on the money."
In the early morning hours of January 15, 2006, the Stardust mission returns to
Earth after a 4.63 billion kilometer (2.88 billion mile) round-trip journey
carrying a precious cargo of cometary and interstellar dust particles. Scientists
believe Stardust's cargo will help provide answers to fundamental questions
about the origins of the solar system.
Scientists believe in-depth terrestrial analysis of cometary samples will reveal
much not just about comets but about the earliest history of the solar system.
Locked within the cometary particles is unique chemical and physical information
that could be the record of the formation of the planets and the materials from
which they were made.
Extensive information on the Stardust mission is available from the Stardust site
JPL manages the Stardust mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, developed and operates the spacecraft. JPL
is a division of the California Institute of Technology. NASA's Johnson Space Center
contributed to Stardust payload development, and the Johnson Space Center will
curate the sample and support analysis and sample allocation.
For information about NASA and agency programs on the Web, visit:
DC Agle (818) 393-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena Calif.
Merrilee Fellows (818) 393-0754
Dwayne Brown (202) 358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington