Stardust Blinded By Solar Flare

By Keith Cowing
November 21, 2000
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StardustAccording to NASA JPL: “Between Wednesday evening and Thursday morning (9 – 10 November 2000), a
powerful proton solar flare about ~100,000 times larger than normal hit
the STARDUST spacecraft. Stardust was only 1.4 AU (130 million miles)
from the Sun, and on its way back toward Earth for a gravity assist
early next year. The solar wind’s stream of high-energy protons
impacted the spacecraft, and its two CCD area array star cameras.
These proton hits to the CCD impart a charge to the pixels, producing
star-like images. During a single star camera readout, hundreds of
these star-like images inundated the star camera processor so that the
star camera could not recognize its position in space.”

Solar FlareThis was not your everyday solar flare. According to the NOAA Space Environment Center: “A severe solar radiation storm began today, 8 November, at 4:50
p.m. MST (2350 UT), and has reached a level of S4 on the NOAA Space Weather Scales. The storm, which currently
ranks as the fourth largest since 1976, is expected to peak over the course of the next several hours and then slowly
diminish over the next three to four days. This severe radiation storm could pose a hazard to the astronauts on the
International Space Station as well as passengers on commercial airlines flying at high latitudes. The storm could also
adversely effect the operation of satellites.”

The Stardust team was quick to act. According to NASA: “The flight team, when confronted with the spacecraft not communication
as planned on Thursday morning, understood that the solar flare most
likely caused safe mode entry. They immediately began communications
with the spacecraft. Telemetered fault history data substantiated the
theory that the proton burst had caused outages in the star camera.
The proton stream was diminishing over the next few days but still a
represented threat. Therefore the spacecraft was left in its spin
attitude state, keeping the solar panels pointed toward the Sun.”

The spacecraft has resumed normal operations. According to NASA “the spacecraft performed as designed and recovered quickly after the
proton stream subsided, demonstrating again the robustness of the
spacecraft and flight team.”

Related Links

° STARDUST Spacecraft is “Temporarily Blinded” by Solar Flare, NASA JPL

° Stardust Spacecraft Encounters Solar Flare

° Stardust, NASA JPL

° Severe Solar Storm Underway – ISS Crew Not at Risk, SpaceRef

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