Thursday, December 29, 2005

Stardust due home

The BBC is reporting on the return of the Stardust spacecraft, which will attempt to make a soft landing in the Utah desert on the 15th of January. The velocity of the sample return capsule, as it enters the Earth's atmosphere at 28,860 mph, will be the fastest of any human-made object on record.

However after the crash landing of the Genesis probe last year due to the failure of its parachute deployment system, and despite the results of the review board, there must be some concerns at NASA about the landing, as Stardust shares the same design for its deployment system.

CREDIT: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The comet Wild 2, which NASA's Stardust spacecraft flew by on Jan. 2, 2004. This image is the closest short exposure of the comet, taken at an 11.4-degree phase angle, the angle between the camera, comet and the Sun.

Stardust was launched in February 1999 with a 5 year mission to investigate the makeup of the comet Wild 2 and its coma, and after passing the asteroid 5535 Annefrank in 2002, Stardust reached its mission target in January 2004. During its flyby of the comet it took detailed pictures of the nucleus, and collected dust samples from the comet's coma which will be returned to Earth in the sample-return capsule in January.

Update: A safe landing for Stardust...