At 33 minutes after 4 p.m. PDT today, NASAs Stardust spacecraft finished its last transmission to Earth. The transmission came on the heels of the venerable spacecrafts final rocket burn, which was designed to provide insight into how much fuel remained aboard after its encounter with comet Tempel 1 in February.
NASAs Stardust spacecraft returned new images of a comet showing a scar resulting from the 2005 Deep Impact mission. The images also showed the comet has a fragile and weak nucleus.
Mission controllers at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., have begun receiving the first of 72 anticipated images of comet Tempel 1 taken by NASAs Stardust spacecraft.
C/2011 C1 is the 58th comet found by Robert H. McNaught, the most prolific comet discoverer of all time. It was discovered on 2011, Feb. 10.71 with the 0.5-m Uppsala Schmidt telescope + CCD during the course of the Siding Spring Survey (E12).
Just one year before its Feb. 14 encounter with comet Tempel 1, NASAs Stardust spacecraft performed the largest rocket burn of its extended life. With the spacecraft on the opposite side of the solar system and beyond the orbit of Mars, the comet hunters rockets fired for 22 minutes and 53 seconds, changing the spacecrafts speed by 24 meters per second (54 mph).
Mission controllers at NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., watched as data downlinked from the Stardust spacecraft indicated it completed its closest approach with comet Tempel 1. An hour after closest approach, the spacecraft turned to point its large, high-gain antenna at Earth.
NASAs Stardust-NExT mission spacecraft is within a quarter-million miles (402,336 kilometers) of its quarry, comet Tempel 1, which it will fly by tonight. The spacecraft is cutting the distance with the comet at a rate of about 10.9 kilometers per second (6.77 miles per second or 24,000 mph).
A bonus round is something one usually associates with the likes of a TV game show, not a pioneering deep space mission.
NASAs Stardust spacecraft marked its 12th anniversary in space on Monday, Feb. 7, with a rocket burn to further refine its path toward a Feb. 14 date with a comet.
Just over two weeks before its flyby of comet Tempel 1, NASAs Stardust spacecraft fired its thrusters to help refine its flight path toward the comet. The Stardust-NExT mission will fly past comet Tempel 1 on Valentines Day (Feb. 14, 2011).