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NASA's Stardust NExT Prepares for Comet Close-Up
01.21.11
 
NASA's Stardust spacecraft will fly past Comet Tempel 1 at a distance of about 200 kilometers (124 miles) on Valentine's Day -- Feb. 14, 2011, in U.S. time zones.  The Stardust-NExT mission will be a first in the history of space exploration – an opportunity to look for changes on the comet's surface that occurred as a result of the comet’s orbital path around the sun.   This flyby will make Stardust the most-traveled comet chaser in history.  It flew past comet Wild 2 in 2004.  Comet Tempel 1 was first visited and imaged by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft in 2005.

Center Contact: DC Agle, 818-393-9011
HQ Contact:  Dwayne Brown, 202-358-1726
For more information: www.stardustnext/nasa.gov

Tim Larson, Stardust NExT Project Manager

The key challenges for an extended mission like this are one, dealing with the age of the spacecraft.  Making sure the spacecraft stays healthy.  Secondly, is the fuel, managing the fuel left on board since this is an extended mission very little fuel is left we’ve used most of it already.  And then the third challenge, for a comet mission is the navigation.  Getting ourselves to where we want to be near the comet given all the uncertainties of the comet trajectory.
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We’ve done a lot of analysis tried to fit the data that we have and the models that we have to that data, and we’ve made a prediction.  We’ve adjusted our arrival time based on that prediction, however if the comet does something unexpected during perihelion which is right now, right about now, it’s at its closest point near the sun.  If it does something unexpected before or after that or during this pass, that obviously is going to affect what we’re predicting and what we’ll be able to see.


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This is extended mission, for one thing its very lost cost its science a really big discount being able to reuse a spacecraft like this.  This, the exciting thing here it’s the very first time we’ve ever been to a comet twice and with close approaches, being able to image it twice on successive perihelion passes.  Exciting new opportunities to see what happens with these comets as they come near the sun.


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