Stardust raises hand to catch interstellar dust
NASA/JPL NEWS RELEASE
Posted: Feb. 24, 2000
Data from the spacecraft indicate that the deployment timeline was followed precisely, and all systems are operating normally. The heat shield on the spacecraft's sample return capsule opened, then a motor moved the aerogel collector out of the capsule. At that point, a second motor extended the collector fully to its collection position. This raised it high enough so that Stardust would be able to collect samples of comet dust when it flies by Comet Wild-2 in 2004. After deployment, however, engineers commanded the spacecraft to retract the collector by about 50 degrees to position it correctly for the current interstellar dust collection.
The aerogel collector has two sides, one designed to gather interstellar dust, while the other is for comet dust collection. Engineers can control which side of the collector is exposed to a dust stream by orienting the spacecraft. Right now, Stardust is oriented so that the interstellar dust particles are hitting the backside of the collector. The current interstellar dust collection will continue through at least May 25. After that, it will be returned to its stowed position until mid-2002, when another period of interstellar dust collection is scheduled.
As its name indicates, the interstellar particles to be collected now are from outside of our solar system. There is a very tenuous dust cloud within our galaxy, the Milky Way, which our solar system is moving through. The direction of the interstellar dust is opposite to the motion of the sun, which drags the planets with it, relative to the particle media. Thus the dust motion is small relative to the solar system motion that is controlling the direction of interstellar dust passing through our solar system.
After Stardust collects comet dust samples from Wild-2 in 2004, all the samples captured in the aerogel collector will be retracted into the sample return capsule. They will then be returned to Earth via a soft landing at the U.S. Air Force's Utah Test and Training Range in 2006.
Stardust was launched on February 7, 1999. The principal investigator for the mission is Dr. Donald C. Brownlee of the University of Washington. The mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, CO, built and operates the spacecraft. Science instruments were provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Chicago and the Max Planck Institute, Garching, Germany. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.
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