Stardust: Comet and interstellar dust sample return mission

Brownlee, D.E.; Tsou, P.; Anderson, J.D.; Hanner, M.S.; Newburn, R.L.; Sekanina, Z.; Clark, B.C.; Horz, F.; Zolensky, M.E.; Kissel, J.; McDonnell, J.A.M.; Sandford, S.A. and Tuzzolino, A.J. (2003). Stardust: Comet and interstellar dust sample return mission. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 108(E10) p. 8111.



Stardust, the 4th Discovery mission launched in February 1999, will collect coma samples from the recently deflected comet 81P/Wild 2 on 2 January 2004 and return them to Earth on 15 January 2006 for detailed laboratory analyses. Stardust will be the first mission to bring samples back to Earth from a known comet and also the first to bring back contemporary interstellar particles recently discovered. These samples should provide important insights into the nature and amount of dust released by comets, the roles of comets in planetary systems, clues to the importance of comets in producing dust in our zodiacal cloud as well as circumstellar dust around other stars, and the links between collected meteoritic samples with a known cometary body. Samples are collected in newly invented continuous gradient density silica aerogel. Stardust is facilitated by a magnificent trajectory designed to accomplish a complex and ambitious flyby sample return mission within the Discovery program restrictions. The remaining science payload, which provides important context for the captured samples, includes a time-of-flight spectrometer measuring the chemical and isotopic composition of dust grains; a polyvinylidene fluoride dust flux monitor determining dust flux profiles; a CCD camera for imaging Wild 2 coma and its nucleus; a shared X band transponder providing two-way Doppler shifts to estimate limits to Wild 2 mass and integrated dust fluence; and tracking of the spacecraft's attitude sensing for the detection of large particle impacts. The graphite composite spacecraft brings the collected sample back to Earth by a direct reentry in a capsule.

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