Cosmic Dust, Comets Coma

The Stardust mission to collect dust from the coma of comet Wild 2 during its close encounter (along with cosmic dust), and return it to Earth was the first of its kind! Following the successful sample return, the Stardust spacecraft received a mission extension to intercept, and image, comet Tempel 1 which had previously been visited by Deep Impact.


The Stardust Mission Fast Summary Facts!

  • Type:  Flyby, Sample Return
  • Destination:  Comet Wild 2
  • Status:  Decommissioned
  • Launch Location:  Cape Canaveral, Florida
  • Launch Date:  February 7th 1999
  • Flyby Of Wild 2:  January 2nd 2004
  • Sample Return Date:  January 15th 2006
  • Mission Duration:  6 Years, 11 Months

Learn Interesting Fun Facts About The Stardust Mission!

  • There were three primary objectives of this NASA Discovery-class mission; collect and return comet coma particles, interstellar dust and image the nucleus of the comet Wild 2.
  • The comet Wild 2 (81P/Wild) is unusual as until a recent encounter with Jupiter in 1974, it was a long-period comet but is now a short-period one.
  • After 3 ½ years of travel, the Stardust spacecraft made a flyby of 5538 Annefrank, imaging it while practising its flyby for comet Wild 2!
  • The Stardust flyby of comet Wild 2 passed through the comet's coma only 236 km from the nucleus, collecting particles as it did by using its ‘Aerogel’ and capturing close up images!
  • Stardust then returned to Earth in early 2006, where the probe jettisoned the capsule containing particles from the comet and interstellar dust.
  • The Stardust capsule re-entered the Earth's atmosphere at a tremendous velocity of 12.9 km/s - the fastest re-entry speed by a man-made object ever!
  • The capsule also endured extreme forces as it passed through the increasingly thick atmosphere, decelerating from a velocity of Mach 36 to subsonic speeds in less than 2 minutes reaching a peak deceleration of 34 g! However, it would land safely on-target in the Utah desert.
  • In 2009, following the successful completion of the Stardust mission, the main Stardust spacecraft was commanded by NASA to follow up from the previous Deep Impact mission by performing a flyby of comet Tempel 1 to image and collect data.
  • The cost of the mission was approximately USD $220 million, including the Delta II rocket launch. Amazingly, this is considered a relatively ‘low cost’ exploration mission!
Stardust Checks
Stardust Launch
Vehicle Diagram
Stardust Trajectory
Coma Chaser
Stardust Return Capsule
previous arrow
next arrow