NASA Spacecraft to Fly By Comet Tonight

NASA’s Stardust-NExT mission spacecraft will fly by comet Tempel 1 on Monday evening. Live coverage on NASA TV and via the Internet begins at 8:30 p.m. PST (11:30 p.m. EST) from mission control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Coverage also will include segments from the Lockheed Martin Space System’s mission support area in Denver.

The closest approach is expected tonight at approximately 8:40 p.m. PST (11:40 p.m. EST).

The mission team expects to begin receiving images on the ground starting at around midnight PST (3 a.m. on Feb. 15 EST). Transmission of each image will take about 15 minutes. It will take about 10 hours to complete the transmission of all images and science data aboard the spacecraft.

For NASA TV streaming video, scheduling and downlink information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/ntv .

The live coverage and news conference will also be carried on one of JPL’s Ustream channels. During events, viewers can take part in a real-time chat and submit questions to the Stardust-NExT team at: http://www.ustream.tv/user/NASAJPL2 .

A post-flyby news conference is planned on Feb. 15 at 10 a.m. PST (1 p.m. EST).

The flyby of Tempel 1 will give scientists an opportunity to look for changes on the comet’s surface since it was visited by NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft in July 2005. Since then, Tempel 1 has completed one orbit of the sun, and scientists are looking forward to discovering any differences in the comet.

During the encounter phase, the spacecraft will carry out many important milestones in short order and automatically, as the spacecraft is too far away to receive timely updates from Earth. These milestones include turning the spacecraft to point its protective shields between it and the anticipated direction from which cometary particles would approach. Another milestone will occur at about four minutes to closest approach, when the spacecraft will begin science imaging of the comet’s nucleus.

The nominal imaging sequence will run for about eight minutes. The spacecraft’s onboard memory is limited to 72 high-resolution images, so the imaging will be most closely spaced around the time of closest approach for best-resolution coverage of Tempel 1’s nucleus. At the time of closest encounter, the spacecraft is expected to be approximately 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the comet’s nucleus.