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EPOXI Makes Successful Flyby Of Comet Hartley 2

November 4, 2010

NASA’s EPOXI mission successfully flew by comet Hartley 2 at about 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT) today, and the spacecraft has begun returning images. Hartley 2 is the fifth comet nucleus visited by a spacecraft.

Scientists and mission controllers are currently viewing never-before-seen images of Hartley 2 appearing on their computer terminal screens.

“The mission team and scientists have worked hard for this day,” said Tim Larson, EPOXI project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “It’s good to see Hartley 2 up close.”

Mission navigators are working to determine the spacecraft’s closest approach distance. Preliminary estimates place the spacecraft close to the planned-for 700 kilometers (435 miles). Eight minutes after closest approach, at 6:59:47 a.m. PDT ( 9:59:47 a.m. EDT), the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna was pointed at Earth and began downlinking vital spacecraft health and other engineering data stored aboard the spacecraft’s onboard computer during the encounter. About 20 minutes later, the first images of the encounter made the 37-million-kilometer (23-million-mile) trip from the spacecraft to NASA’s Deep Space Network antennas in Goldstone, Calif., appearing moments later on the mission’s computer screens.

“We are all holding our breath to see what discoveries await us in the observations near closest approach,” said EPOXI principal investigator Michael A’Hearn of the University of Maryland, College Park.

A post-encounter news conference will be held at 1 p.m. PDT (4 p.m. EDT) in the von Karman auditorium at JPL. It will be carried live on NASA TV. Downlink and schedule information is online at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv. The event will also be carried live on http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2.

EPOXI is an extended mission that utilizes the already “in-flight” Deep Impact spacecraft to explore distinct celestial targets of opportunity. The name EPOXI itself is a combination of the names for the two extended mission components: the extrasolar planet observations, called Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh), and the flyby of comet Hartley 2, called the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI). The spacecraft has retained the name “Deep Impact.”

JPL manages the EPOXI mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The University of Maryland is home to the mission’s principal investigator, Michael A’Hearn. Drake Deming of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is the science lead for the mission’s extrasolar planet observations. The spacecraft was built for NASA by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.

NASA ADMINISTRATOR STATEMENT ON THE SUCCESSFUL EPOXI FLYBY OF COMET HARTLEY 2

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the EPOXI mission’s successful flyby of comet Hartley 2:

“NASA extended its pioneering exploration of the solar system today with the successful flyby of comet Hartley 2 by our EPOXI mission. The stunning new images returned of the comet as it zoomed past the spacecraft at a relative speed of more than 27,000 mph are awe inspiring. The images taken and other science collected should help reveal new insights into the origins of our solar system as scientists pore over them in the months and years to come. And they are also yet another example of the incredible dedication, skill, and innovation of the engineers and scientists at NASA, and our partners, who accomplish these incredible technological feats.

“This mission represents one of NASA’s most successful deep space exploration projects. The encounter with Hartley 2 today adds to the data collected by the mission during Deep Impact’s prime mission to comet Tempel 1 in 2005 and the science acquired during the successful EPOCh mission.

“EPOXI is a wonderful example of the strong collection of NASA science missions we have coming up in the next few years that will enable us to visit destinations across the solar system in new and exciting ways, look through new windows out across our vast cosmos, and expand our understanding of our own home planet. Our increased investment in science will continue to yield valuable dividends for the future.

“On behalf of the entire NASA family and interested stargazers around the world, my congratulations to the EPOXI team for a great moment of scientific exploration and discovery.”

Image 1: This close-up view of comet Hartley 2 was taken by NASA’s EPOXI mission during its flyby of the comet on Nov. 4, 2010. It was captured by the spacecraft’s Medium-Resolution Instrument. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

Image 2: This is one of the first images sent back to Earth from the NASA’s EPOXI mission after it flew by comet Hartley 2 around 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT) on Nov. 4, 2010. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

Image 3: NASA’s EPOXI mission took this image of comet Hartley 2 on Nov. 2, 2010 from a distance of 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles). The spacecraft will fly by the comet on Nov. 4, 2010. The white blob and the halo around it are the comet’s outer cloud of gas and dust, called a coma. At this distance, the spacecraft is capturing images with a resolution of about 23 kilometers/pixel (14 miles/pixel). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD

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