Stardust and Aerogel Return Home Again

Remember the Stardust mission that returned samples of comet dust back to Earth in 2006? The spacecraft dropped off a capsule containing samples of a comet’s coma and interstellar dust particles, but the spacecraft “bus” is still out there in an elongated orbit of the sun. It will come home again, swinging by Earth on January 14, at 19:40 UTC (12:40 pm PST), getting a gravity assist from the home planet as it flies approximately 5713 miles (9200 kilometers) from the Earth’s surface. But the spacecraft isn’t just wandering the solar system with nothing to do. It has a new job and a new mission. Called Stardust NExT, (New Exploration of Tempel 1) the spacecraft will re-survey comet Tempel 1 – the comet that the Deep Impact mission left a mark on — encountering the comet on Feb. 14, 2011.

And remember aerogel – the wispy material that collected the comet dust? Turns out this stuff can come home, too: into homes and other buildings as a super-insulating material. Engineers say using aerogel as an insulator can increase the thermal insulation factor of a wall by over 40%!

Lightweight, wispy aerogel.  Credit: NASA
Lightweight, wispy aerogel. Credit: NASA

If you’ve ever had the chance to handle aerogel, you know it’s really weird stuff. It’s fragile, but it’s also strong. You can crush it easily in your hand, but it has just the right qualities to be able to capture dust particles zooming in space at extremely high speeds without breaking, and was “gentle” enough to preserve the particles. Engineers say the aerogel insulation technology developed by NASA, is the highest insulating material in existence, and the company Thermablok(TM) developed an amazing product that may soon become a requirement in the building industry.

Aerogel, also referred to as “frozen smoke,” has been difficult to adapt to most uses because it’s so fragile The patented Thermablok material however overcomes this by using a unique fiber to suspend a proprietary formula of Aerogel such that it can be bent or compressed while still retaining its amazing insulation properties.

Aerogel-based insulation.
Aerogel-based insulation.

Aerogel material is 95% air, and just a 1/4″ x 1-1/2″ (6.25mm x 38mm) strip of Thermablok(TM) added to each stud in a wall before putting on drywall, breaks the “thermal bridging,” increasing the thermal insulation factor of a wall by 42%.

The U.S. Department of Energy has verified the findings on the producst’s thermal capability. Plus its recyclable, fire resistant and not affected by water (so no mold).

Speaking of recyclable, NASA’s plans for the Stardust spacecraft to revisit Tempel 1 will finish the investigation begun in 2005 when the Deep Impact mission blasted a crater into the comet. “The crater’s there,” said Joseph Veverka, Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University and Principal Investigator of Stardust-NExT, “but we’ve never seen it.” That’s because the cloud of material ejected from the crater obscured the Deep Impact spacecraft’s view. By the time the particles slowly settled back down to the comet’s surface, the spacecraft, traveling at about 10 km (about 6 miles) per second, was gone.

Looking into the crater with Stardust-NExT will provide mankind’s first view of a comet’s internal structure, information that is not only scientifically interesting, but vital to our future ability to keep a comet from hitting the Earth. Even the size of the crater will be revealing. “That will tell us the mechanical properties of the subsurface of the comet,” Veverka said. “In other words, how does the comet respond to impacts? And that’s one of the fundamental things that you’d need to know if you were trying to blow up a comet or push it out of the way.”

Stardust was originally launched in 1999, and in January 2004, the spacecraft performed a risky and historic flyby of Comet Wild 2 to capture the samples and take pictures of the comet’s nucleus.

Sources: Space Ref, Stardust NExT mission

26 Replies to “Stardust and Aerogel Return Home Again”

  1. Bringing home a potentially deadly product from space with promises of its safety is typical of Big Government Overconfidence. Why was this mission launched anyway? How do comet studies feed the poor, lower the rising seas, or end war? The money flow used for this project should be halted immediately and redirected into
    A) A Department of Peace to end the oppression in Gaza
    B) A Department of Ecological Responsibility to stop rising seas and put an end to rapidly increasing temperatures and…
    C) A Department of Homeless, Hunger and Unemployment to help the millions living on the streets in this country while funds are spend willy-nilly on some far-fetched Space Race to placate the desires of Corporate America.

  2. Fraser, Nancy, Ian et al.

    I love this blog, love the stories and news articles.

    Please disable the posting of comments, or institute some sort of IQ test you need to pass before being allowed to post.

  3. TrustMe-
    While I tend to side with formulaterp, I will take the time to point out that NASA’s use of aerogel for the Stardust mission helped in developing the insulation described in the article, which will benefit humankind with it’s energy-saving qualities. This is just one example of technologies developed for space that have beneficial uses here on Earth, usually uses that were never envisioned before NASA or ESA put their nose to the grindstone.

  4. Poo poo on TrustMe’s ideas. Go mop up all the wasted dollars on all the other projects, then come back and whine about the few millions on this project (proportionally, it’s less than 1% of all other dollars spent dropping bombs, bailing out ****heads, and propping up banks). Mr. Moose had a better thought pattern when he dropped a double dose of ping pong balls on Captain Kangaroo.

  5. formulaterp –

    An excellent idea – let’s ban anyone who disagrees with our (read YOUR) point of view! There is to be no dialogue, no dissent, all must march forward in scientific progress no matter what the cost – the environment and planet can be ignored for now.

  6. TrustMe, did you read what the author of this post just said? The work with aerogel DOES help environmental causes. Aerogel is a cheap effective insulation, which reduces the energy used for heating; and aerogel wouldn’t be as well developed as it is today if it weren’t for the work done by the STARDUST team. Isn’t this exactly the kind of thing you should be supporting?

  7. my suggestion is to simply and totally ignore TrustMe and it’s kind, he/she/it is only interested in getting a response and riling you, don’t give him/she/it the pleasure.

  8. While TrustMe’s comments do demonstrate an IQ level somewhere below that of the Common Snail Darter, I have to vigorously disagree with formulaterp. There is no law against being stupid and it is an inalienable right that people have to be able to publicly express their stupidity. There are only three correct responses to TrustMe: use facts and point out the error of his ways (pointless exercise since he wouldn’t be able to understand the logical use of data); heap derision upon him (satisfying and fun); or ignore him (probably the course of action most likely to achieve results but not as much fun as the derision option). The only wrong response is to try and forcibly silence him. Let him bellow his position so we can all see what the low end of the bell curve produces.

  9. Firstly, Timber you are an absolute hypocrite.

    You said January 6th, 2009 at 9:29 am, under the thread “Hubble, Spitzer Collaborate for Stunning Panorama of Galactic Center” you said to Salacious B. Crumb,

    “You seem to have a huge animosity towards those of us in the USA and any of our materiel, so if you don’t like the TV program, turn off the TV (or should I say Telly).
    Your Socialist ranting is one of the reasons we left your country, and attitudes, some 300 years ago, we don’t want anypart of it now.
    It was probably a huge mistake on our part to get involved with your problems in the early 1900’s and the 1940’s, we should have let you solve them on your own. Let’s pray we don’t get involved again.”

    Why is it that you profess freedom of speech in your American Constitution as a right of their citizenship, then have the audacity to tell everyone else to ignore others (or worst in this case deride them by calling them Socialist, etc ) especially when they are not from the U.S.? Other countries also have equal freedom of speech enacted in law as well, and also respect other peoples ideas and expression.
    TrustMe has not threatened anyone, subverting others way of thinking, and is not using racial or bad language.
    In my view, if you don’t like it don’t read it, and ignore it.

    Whilst TrustMe is likely way off the mark, he got the right to say what he or she wishes.

    In fact, I would defend his notions, if, as I assume, he is talking about ‘comet dust”. His statement “Bringing home a potentially deadly product from space….” is probably wrong, but who was the one who originally professed this idea was Fred Hoyle in the 1950’s 60’s – a reputable astronomer and scientist. he suggested that colds and viruses could be past to Earth via panspermia. (Oh he’s English, so he must be a socialist.) It is written in boos even today I.e. The Interstellar Panspermia Society, and even Carl Sagan professed it might be possible.

    You then resort to insult guy you should “institute some sort of IQ test” or Mr. Greenjeans comment “Mr. Moose had a better thought pattern when he dropped a double dose of ping pong balls on Captain Kangaroo.”

    Perhaps you should think of the actual word ‘tolerance’;
    “allow or to permit, to recognize and respect others’ beliefs and practices without sharing them, to bear or put up with someone or something not necessarily liked”

    IMO, it is stupid relativists like you that should be banned.

    NOTE: This last bit also to formulaterp too…

  10. TrustMe,

    “oppression in Gaza”? The Israelis will end the “oppression” as soon as Hamas stops indiscriminately lobbing missles into Israel. At least Israel is trying to target Hamas fighters (who are now dressing as civilians). Who is Hamas targeting? The call for peace in the face of terrorism and murder is not compassion, it’s cowardice.

  11. Some people just don’t get the big picture.

    Humanitys spending on space is the best investment ever that we will do as a species.

    The Stardust mission is a wonderful mission, which allowed the average joe to participate in the project to find particles of matter from outside our solar system, I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in the stardust project and I am glad the spacecraft has been reassigned a new mission.

  12. Trustme wants a dept of “Peace,” etc?
    This is the sheerest of lunacy. Please read 1984, a novel.

    Let’s “get a grip”!

  13. Easy does it, Mr.1=0.

    I didn’t insult TrustMe. I argued that his/her thought pattern was the issue. Trustme made a bad argument…and I’m being very, very liberal with how an argument is defined. Trustme didn’t bother to back up any of his/her points. His/her argument is defective, deficient, or, in other words, it sucks. It’s my right to say that. I didn’t say a thing about Trustme as a person. I’m as inclined to grab a cup of coffee and talk about ideas with Trustme as anyone else.

  14. The funniest thing about this whole comment threat is how completely ignored the actual article is being.

    But do go on. It’s being fun to watch. I only wish I had some popcorn. 🙂

  15. Jorge, the funniest thing about your comment in the thread is that lacked any substance, too. So what gives?

  16. Man, I wish I could get my hands on some Aerogel…

    Whenever I see a picture like that, I always kind of envision showing it to someone from the fifties… We may not have flying cars, but we do have ‘frozen smoke.’


  17. When are we going to use Aerogells to insulate cyrogenic rocket stages so that we can use very thin tanks and get high mass fractions?

    Just saying…

  18. Conic, that’s actually a point that raises a confusing detail about the whole aerogel business. This thing seems to be way too fragile to withstand the vibrations typical of rocket stages. But it did go up in a rocket, and survived a landing, which always involves some level of impact. So what gives? Is the secret in dampers? Were the impacts and vibrations absorved by the frame it was set in?

  19. I am interested in seeing more images of the impact on the asteroid.

    Patiently Waiting…


  20. Did the article say that the samples were
    “returned to Earth?” Hardly.

    The parachute on the sample module failed and the folks in the helicopter who were supposed to catch it in mid air (now there’s a good idea) could only watch as this ultra fragile payload slammed into the desert floor at 160 mph.

    As somebody once intoned,
    “You don’t even have to be a rocket scientist to be a rocket scientist anymore.”

  21. Rick Ellis Says:
    January 14th, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Did the article say that the samples were
    “returned to Earth?” Hardly.

    The parachute on the sample module failed and the folks in the helicopter who were supposed to catch it in mid air (now there’s a good idea) could only watch as this ultra fragile payload slammed into the desert floor at 160 mph.

    >>>Sorry mate – that was the Genesis mission, not Stardust. Similar objective though, so fairly easily confused.

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