Mission Overview

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Stardust-NExT (Stardust-New Exploration of Tempel) is an extended mission that utilizes the already "in flight" Stardust spacecraft to fly by comet temple 1 in Feb. 2011 and extend the investigation of that comet by the Deep impact mission. Note - while the mission name has been changed to Stardust-NExT the spacecraft will continue to be referred to as "Stardust."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages Stardust-NExT for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Cornell University, Ithaca is home to the mission's principal investigator, Joe Veverka. The spacecraft was built for NASA by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Littleton, Colo.

artist's concept of Stardust encounter with comet Wild 2
Image above: An artist's concept of Stardust encounter with comet Wild 2. Image credit: NASA/JPL.
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In the early 1990s, NASA established a program called Discovery to competitively select proposals for low-cost solar system exploration missions with highly focused science goals. Stardust, the fourth Discovery mission, sent a spacecraft to fly through the cloud of dust that surrounds the nucleus of a comet. For the first time ever, the mission brought cometary material back to Earth.

Stardust was the first U.S. mission dedicated solely to a comet and was the first to return extraterrestrial material from outside the orbit of the moon. Stardust's main objective was to capture a sample from a well-preserved comet called Wild-2 (pronounced "Vilt-2").

Launched February 7, 1999, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a Delta II rocket, Stardust collected interstellar dust as it flew through the solar system in spring 2000. On January 15, 2001, the spacecraft executed a flyby of Earth. In summer and fall 2002, the spacecraft again collected interstellar dust.

On January 2, 2004, Stardust flew close to comet Wild-2 and collected cometary particles for analysis. On January 15, 2006, samples of comet and interstellar dust were delivered in a return capsule that will landed in the Utah desert. Through the course of the entire mission, Stardust flew a total of 5.2 billion kilometers (3.2 billion miles).

Managed by JPL, the mission is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Donald C. Brownlee of the University of Washington. The spacecraft was designed and built by Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver.

Following the sample return, the spacecraft was reconfigured for a new mission called Stardust-Next .

Stardust related links:
›  Science Overview
›  Exploring Comets
›  Aerogel
›  Curation Facility

More information about Stardust is available online at http://stardust.jpl.nasa.gov/index.html.