NASA's Discovery programme spacecraft, the Stardust, launched on 7 February last year, has deployed its interstellar dust collector.

The Stardust, due to rendezvous with the comet Wild 2 in 2004 where it will collect cometary particles, will spend the next three months collecting interstellar dust particles in the solar system. The spacecraft will collect the dust in a bed of aerogel - a light, porous material that will preserve the shape and chemical composition of the dust grains. Another collection period will take place in 2002, when the Stardust's motion will parallel the dust stream.

The aerogel, mounted on the deployable disc-like collector, will be used to collect the comet dust from Wild 2. The collector will be inserted into a small recovery capsule, which will return to Earth in 2006 for analysis.

Source: Flight International