On Friday 20, 2013 NASA officially declared the comet hunting Deep Impact mission lost. Although the loss was unexpected, the mission team were more than happy with the $267 million unmanned spacecraft’s performance.

In the little under 9 years from launch, the spacecraft had managed to travel 4.7 billion miles throughout space sending back a plethora of information that as previously unknown about comets.

deep impact space mission

Communication Lost

The last contact was made on the 8th August but since then there has been nothing from the spacecraft. Nobody on the Deep Impact mission team is entirely sure about the specifics which caused communication to fail between control and the spacecraft but it’s thought that the most likely reason is a problem with time tagging.

A problem with fault protection software reading dates after a certain day could have caused the computers to constantly reboot resulting in the spacecraft losing its place so that radio signals were interrupted and the solar panels pointing the wrong way. The electronics would have become frozen without and the craft would have been inoperable.

A good Life

Although the team were looking forward to receiving valuable data from Deep Impact for years to come, they’re extremely happy with its performance. The space craft lasted up to 3 or 4 times longer than anyone anticipated.

The launch of the comet seeking spacecraft came about in 2005. Its first mission was to intercept comet Temple1 with an impact, blasting material from the comet that could be studied. The mission was a complete success and from there on out, the comet hunter was able to provide much more information through various missions. On its travels, Deep Impact has:

  • Impacted Temple 1 comet
  • Passed 6 stars to confirm planet movement around them
  • Collected images of the Earth, moon and Mars
  • Collected images and provided information about the composition of Garradd the distant comet
  • Sent images of ISON

The chief mission scientist Mike A’Hearn of the University of Maryland was by no means disappointed in the results from the Deep Impact Mission stating “I’m a little biased but I think tax payers saw very good value from this mission.” Like many of NASA’s missions, Deep Impact seemed to outperform any preconceptions of its capabilities. The Discovery Program Executive at NASA headquarters and mission Program Executive, Lindley Johnson says “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.”

[Image via Universe Today]