NEAR probe reaches prime scientific orbit
LAUREL, Maryland -- NEAR Shoemaker has settled into an
orbit 50 km (31 miles) from the asteroid Eros, its
closest approach yet and the ideal distance to train its scientific instruments on the pockmarked
space rock, mission scientists said.
The NASA ship entered the circular orbit Sunday after
completing one of its longest engine burns to date, a more
than two-minute burst to correct its course after it
descended toward the asteroid from an orbit of 100 km
The position adjustment thruster firing is the sixth since
the spacecraft began orbiting Eros on February 14. NEAR Shoemaker will remain in its new orbit for two months, using its imager to get the closest view yet of the slowly tumbling asteroid.
The instruments onboard NEAR were designed for optimum use at the current orbital distance. The April 30 burn left NEAR Shoemaker traveling at seven miles per hour, a reduction of three miles per hour from its previous speed, said NEAR researchers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Research Lab in Laurel, Maryland.
Stardust ends first period of interstellar dust collecting
PASADENA, California -- A spacecraft designed to gather and return to Earth samples of interstellar debris concluded its first stage of dust collecting on Monday, mission scientists said.
The Stardust robot ship was to stow its dust collector Monday.
During its two-month deployment, the waffle-shaped instrument
trapped dust from a particle stream that flows into the solar
The microscopic debris contains heavy chemical elements that
originated in stars, which scientists hope can offer clues
about the formation of Earth and life.
The collector will resume its work in 2002 when Stardust
researchers plan another period of interstellar dust
gathering. The instrument will be deployed again in early
2004 to gather comet dust samples when Stardust flies by
Once the samples of both interstellar dust and comet dust are
tucked safely inside the aerogel collector, it will be
retracted into the sample return capsule. Launched in 1999,
the probe is scheduled to return to Earth in 2006. The $200
million mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in
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