Earlier this month, NASA revealed that its scientists and engineers were still attempting to contact the Deep Impact spacecraft. Contact with the probe was lost in early August, and researchers now believe Deep Impact suffered a software glitch, causing its computers to constantly reboot. With the spacecraft unable to control its attitude, NASA’s attempts to contact the probe were made harder.
This weekend NASA announced that its attempts to contact Deep Impact have ceased. The mission has officially been ended after one month without contact with the spacecraft. The agency believes that the same error which made it difficult to determine the position of the probe’s radio antenna also prevented the craft’s solar array from pointing toward the sun. Without solar power, Deep Impact’s battery and propulsion systems may have become frozen.
“Despite this unexpected final curtain call, Deep Impact already achieved much more than ever was envisioned,” said Lindley Johnson, the Discovery program executive at NASA Headquarters. “Deep Impact has completely overturned what we thought we knew about comets and also provided a treasure trove of additional planetary science that will be the source data of research for years to come.”
Deep Impact was launched in January 2005 on a mission to study the comet Tempel 1. In July 2005 the spacecraft deployed a probe that hit the comet, allowing researchers to examine material from the inside of the comet. After completing its primary mission, Deep Impact logged around 4.7 billion miles in the solar system, traveling to study the comets Hartley 2, C/2009 P1, and ISON.
“Six months after launch, this spacecraft had already completed its planned mission to study comet Tempel 1,” said Tim Larson, Deep Impact project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “But the science team kept finding interesting things to do, and through the ingenuity of our mission team and navigators and support of NASA’s Discovery Program, this spacecraft kept it up for more than eight years, producing amazing results all along the way.”
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)