Deep Impact Mission Status
NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft has completed the commissioning
phase of the mission and has moved into the cruise phase.
Deep Impact mission planners have separated the spacecraft's
flight operations into five mission phases. Cruise phase will
continue until about 60 days before the encounter with comet
Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005.
Image right: An artist's concept of Deep Impact and comet Tempel 1. Image credit: NASA/JPL.
Soon after launch on Jan. 12, 2005, Deep Impact entered the
commissioning phase. During that phase, the mission team
verified the basic state of health of all subsystems and
tested the operation of science instruments. The spacecraft's
autonomous navigation system was activated and tested using
the Moon and Jupiter as targets.
The spacecraft's high gain antenna, which will relay images
and data of the cometary collision, was activated and is
operating properly. A trajectory correction maneuver was
performed, refining the spacecraft's flight path to comet
Tempel 1. The maneuver was so successful that a second one
planned for March 31 has been cancelled.
Another event during commissioning phase was the bake-out
heating of the spacecraft's High Resolution Instrument to
remove normal residual moisture from its barrel. The moisture
was a result of absorption into the structure of the
instrument during the vehicle's last hours on the launch pad
and its transit through the atmosphere to space.
At completion of the bake-out procedure, test images were
taken through the High Resolution Instrument. These images
indicate the telescope has not reached perfect focus. A
special team has been formed to investigate the performance
and to evaluate activities to bring the telescope the rest of
the way to focus. Future calibration tests will provide
additional information about the instrument’s performance.
The Deep Impact spacecraft has four data collectors to
observe the effects of the cometary collision: a camera and
infrared spectrometer comprise the High Resolution
Instrument; a Medium Resolution Instrument; and a duplicate
camera on the Impactor Targeting Sensor. They will record the
vehicle's final moments before it is run over by comet Tempel
1 at approximately 37,000 kilometers per hour (23,000 miles
per hour). The Medium Resolution Instrument and Impactor
Targeting Sensor are performing as expected.
Dr. Michael A'Hearn of the University of Maryland, College
Park, Md., added, "We are very early in the process of
examining the data from all the instruments. It appears our
infrared spectrometer is performing spectacularly, and even
if the spatial resolution of the High Resolution Instrument
remains at present levels, we still expect to obtain the
best, most detailed pictures of a comet ever taken."
"This in no way will affect our ability to impact the comet
on July 4," said Rick Grammier, Deep Impact project manager
at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
"Everyone on the science and engineering teams is getting
very excited and looking forward to the encounter."
Deep Impact is comprised of two parts, a flyby spacecraft and
a smaller impactor. The impactor will be released into the
comet's path for the planned high-speed collision. The crater
produced by the impactor is expected to range from the width
of a house up to the size of a football stadium and be from
two to 14 stories deep. Ice and dust debris will be ejected
from the crater revealing the material beneath.
Along with the imagers aboard Deep Impact, NASA's Hubble,
Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes, along with the largest
telescopes on Earth, will observe the effects of the material
flying from the comet's newly formed crater.
An intimate glimpse beneath the surface of a comet, where
material and debris from the formation of the solar system
remain relatively unchanged, will answer basic questions
about the how the solar system formed. The effects of the
collision will offer a better look at the nature and
composition of these celestial travelers.
Principal Investigator A'Hearn leads the mission from the
University of Maryland, College Park. JPL manages the Deep
Impact project for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA
Headquarters. Deep Impact is a mission in NASA's Discovery
Program of moderately priced solar system exploration
missions. The spacecraft was built for NASA by Ball
Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, Boulder, Colo.
For more information about Deep Impact on the Internet, visit
D.C. Agle (818) 393-9011
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
Dolores Beasley (202) 358-1753