SCHWETZINGEN, Germany: On January 2nd at
19.20 UTC NASA’s Stardust spacecraft will finally reach its
target. After a journey of nearly 5 years through the solar
system, the spacecraft will encounter the comet Wild 2. As one
of only two fully scientific instruments, the spacecraft carries
the German dust analyzer CIDA, built by the Schwetzingen-based
company von Hoerner & Sulger. Stardust’s task for this day is
to collect and analyse the comet’s dust as the probe performs
a daring flyby past the comet’s nucleus and its tail. Then,
for the first time ever, the spacecraft will return to
Earth carrying a selection of dust samples for scientists to
investigate in their laboratories. The capsule containing the
precious space dust is expected to arrive back on earth on
the 15th January 2006, landing in the U.S. state of Utah.

However, the dust particles and complex organic molecules from
the comet nucleus are extremely fragile and are at some risk
of being damaged during their capture by the spacecraft:
Stardust passes the comet at a high velocity of 6 km/s.
Therefore from the outset NASA wanted to have a proven
instrument on the spacecraft, which is capable of providing
immediate feedback and analysis of the cometary dust which is
being collected. The choice was easy: CIDA, the latest version
of a family of dust analyzers built by von Hoerner & Sulger,
Schwetzingen. These instruments had already taken part in the
“Halley Armada” in 1986, when three such instruments were used
to place Halley’s Comet under the magnifying glass leading to
many important and significant discoveries. Once again the
engineers from von Hoerner & Sulger with the lead scientist
Dr. Jochen Kissel of the Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy in
Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, were selected for this NASA mission,
with funding provided by the German federal government.

Stardust is the first mission with the major focus on the
dusty environment of a comet. As a secondary objective it will
also collect the space dust which passes through our solar
system. This interstellar dust and the dust found around the
comet are closely related to each other and promise to provide
crucial insight into the formation of our solar system and
perhaps even the origin of life on planet Earth. Whilst the
encounter with Wild 2 will last a mere moment relative to the
duration of the mission, CIDA – the Cometary and Interstellar
Dust Analyzer – will collect thousands of particles. The full
analysis of the flood of data will take many months. All the
staff at von Hoerner & Sulger GmbH are delighted to have made
a major contribution to one of the most exciting space projects
of our time.

You find an extended press release with images, backgrounders,
and links at:

Infos, contact:

Dr. Hartmut Henkel, von Hoerner & Sulger GmbH, Schwetzingen, Germany
E-Mail:, Tel. (mobile): (+49) 174-3045503