Stardust-NExT is about to become the first spacecraft to visit two comets. The first was Wild 2 in 2004. Next up: comet Tempel 1, on February 14.
Transcript:Music Tim Larson: I'm Tim Larson, Stardust-NExT project manager. The Stardust spacecraft was launched in 1999 from Cape Canaveral.
Mission Control Voice: We have main engine start. Zero. And lift-off! Larson: ...and began its journey around the sun and the solar system. On the way to its primary objective, comet Wild 2, it had the opportunity to fly by an asteroid called Annefrank and take some images of that asteroid as it flew by.
Then it continued orbiting the sun, getting closer and closer to Wild 2, taking images of the comet as it approached and then departed. And at the same time it had a sample collection capsule open, collecting dust samples from that comet. And that was returned to Earth in January of 2006. Those samples are still being analzyed today and yielding very interesting results.
The Stardust spacecraft continued orbiting the sun. And we've now been able to retarget that spacecraft to take it near another comet, Tempel 1. Its closest approach to Tempel 1 will occur on February 14, 2001, approximately 8:30 in the evening Pacific Time.
The spacecraft will fly by 200 kilometers from the nucleus of this comet and will take 72 images of the comet that it'll store in its onboard memory. And it'll point the high-gain antenna back at Earth and replay all those images to the ground over the next 12 or 13 hours.
After the images are safely received on the ground, it will continue taking outbound images of this comet for a few weeks, until the fuel tanks will be almost empty. And at that point the spacecraft will essentially be retired after long duty and two very successful missions for NASA.
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology Music