NASA Ends Deep Impact Mission
September 20, 2013

NASA Officially Ends Deep Impact Mission

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA announced on Friday that its Deep Impact mission has ended after losing communication with the spacecraft.

The Deep Impact mission spent nine years in space snapping about 500,000 images and flying past comets. It was the most-traveled comet research mission in history, tallying a total of 4.7 billion miles in its nine-year journey. The last time NASA was able to communicate with the probe was on August 8.

"The project team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has reluctantly pronounced the mission at an end after being unable to communicate with the spacecraft for over a month," NASA wrote.

The space probe successfully completed its original mission back in 2005 within just six months of launching. After this, the mission performed another comet flyby and made observations of exoplanets. Since then, it has been used as a space observatory to capture images and other scientific data on several targets of opportunity with its telescopes.

"Deep Impact has been a fantastic, long-lasting spacecraft that has produced far more data than we had planned," said Mike A'Hearn, the Deep Impact principal investigator at the University of Maryland in College Park. "It has revolutionized our understanding of comets and their activity."

For its first mission, Deep Impact traveled about 268 miles to reach comet Tempel 1. On July 3, 2005 it deployed an impactor into the path of the comet, which caused material from below the comet's surface to be blasted out into space where it could be examined by the telescopes and instrumentation on board the flyby spacecraft.

"Six months after launch, this spacecraft had already completed its planned mission to study comet Tempel 1," said Tim Larson, project manager of Deep Impact at JPL. "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."

Deep Impact's extended mission included the successful flyby of comet Hartley 2 on November 4, 2010. On the way to Hartley, it observed six different stars to confirm the motion of planets orbiting them, and took images and data of Earth, the Moon and Mars. This data helped scientists confirm the existence of water on the moon.

Mission controllers spent several weeks trying to get back into contact with the spacecraft since losing communication last month. NASA said the exact cause of the loss of contact is unknown, but it has uncovered a potential problem with computer time tagging that could have led to loss of control for its orientation.

“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, and the Program Executive for the mission since a year before it launched. "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.”