NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft began its 431 million kilometer (268 million mile) journey to Comet Tempel 1 Wednesday at 1:47:08 p.m. EST. Data received from the spacecraft indicates it has deployed and locked its solar panels, is receiving power and achieved proper orientation in space. Data also indicates the spacecraft has placed itself in a safe mode and is awaiting further commands from Earth. Deep Impact mission managers are examining data returns from the mission.
Deep Impact is comprised of two parts, a “fly-by” spacecraft and a smaller “impactor.” The impactor will be released into the comet’s path for a planned collision on July 4. The crater produced by the impactor is expected to be up to football field sized and two to 14 stories deep. Ice and dust debris will be ejected from the crater, revealing the material beneath.
The fly-by spacecraft will observe the effects of the collision. NASA’s Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes, and others on Earth, will also observe the collision.
Comets are time capsules that hold clues about the formation and evolution of the Solar System. They are composed of ice, gas and dust, primitive debris from the Solar System’s distant and coldest regions that formed 4.5 billion years ago.
The management of the Deep Impact launch was the responsibility of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Deep Impact was launched from Pad 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Delta II launch service was provided by Boeing Expendable Launch Systems, Huntington Beach, Calif. The spacecraft was built for NASA by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation, Boulder, Colo. Deep Impact Project Management is by JPL.