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Deep Impact Mission Science Technology Mission Results Gallery Education Discovery Zone Your Community Press Press - Press Releases

May 24, 2001

CONTACT: Lee Tune, University of Maryland
(301) 405-4679 or ltune[at]accmail.umd.edu

NASA Gives Go Ahead for Building of 'Deep Impact' Spacecraft

COLLEGE PARK, MD - University of Maryland astronomer Mike A'Hearn is on top of the world today because NASA has given the Deep Impact mission approval to move ahead to its next phase of development final design and building of the spacecraft.

The Deep Impact mission, designed to give the first look inside the pristine nucleus of a comet, is a partnership between the University of Maryland, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. The Deep Impact team of scientists, spacecraft engineers and mission designers has been working for over 18 months to design the spacecraft and all aspects of the mission. In 2005, a mission spacecraft will punch a crater in Comet Tempel 1 exposing the material inside and revealing clues to the comet's composition and structure and perhaps uncovering secrets about the origin of the solar system.

"This is a major milestone for us," said A'Hearn, who directs the mission as principal investigator. "We have now shown NASA that we have a viable design for the spacecraft and the mission to carry out a truly rare, large-scale experiment on another body of the solar system."

Space craft construcion begins

Now the Deep Impact team is completing the final design details and beginning the building of the mission's two spacecraft: a flyby spacecraft and a 350 kg (770 pound) impacting spacecraft. They will be launched together in early 2004 and travel to Comet Tempel 1's orbit where they will separate and operate independently. The flyby spacecraft will release the impactor into the comet's path, then watch from a safe distance as the impactor guides itself to collide with the comet, making a football-field-sized crater in the comet's solid nucleus. As the gases and ice inside the comet are exposed and expelled outward by the impact, the flyby spacecraft will take pictures and measure the composition of the outflowing gas by recording its spectra. The images and data will be transmitted to Earth in near-real time. Many observatories on Earth will be able to see the comet dramatically brighten just after the impact on July 4, 2005.

Comets as time capsules

Comets are time capsules that hold clues about the formation and evolution of the solar system. They are composed of ice and dust, which is the primitive debris from the solar system's earliest and coldest formation period 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists are eager to learn whether comets release their supply of gas and ice into space or seal it inside the comet interior.

They would also like to learn how a comet's interior is different from its surface. The controlled cratering experiment of the Deep Impact mission will provide answers to these questions.

"The Deep Impact mission follows in the tradition of other Discovery missions like Mars Pathfinder and the Near Asteroid Rendezvous, by doing first of a kind science on a low cost highly focused project," said Brian Muirhead, the manager of the Deep Impact project, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "The Project team is fully prepared to implement this technically challenging and scientifically unique mission." "Ball Aerospace is pleased and proud to be involved with JPL and the University of Maryland in working on this first of a kind deep space mission," said John Marriott, Deputy Project Manager at Ball Aerospace.

Comet Tempel 1

Comet Tempel 1 was discovered in 1867. Orbiting the sun every 5.5 years, it has made many passages through the inner solar system. This makes it a good target to study evolutionary change in the mantle, or outer crust, of a comet.

Deep Impact Team

The University of Maryland is the home of Deep Impact's principal investigator, Michael A'Hearn, who leads the mission and oversees its scientific investigations. The mission's educational and public outreach is managed by University of Maryland astronomer Lucy McFadden. Project Manager, Brian Muirhead, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages and operates the Deep Impact mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington D.C. JPL is managed by the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA. John Marriot of Ball Aerospace & Technology Corp. manages the spacecraft development in Boulder, Colo.

Images and more information about the mission are available on the web at: deepimpact.umd.edu/.

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