May 31, 2001
Contact: Barbara Darling
Electronic images available at: www.ball.com/aerospace/media/di.html
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. Has Key Role in Unique Comet Study Mission
BOULDER, Colo. (May 31, 2001) - Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. has a vital role in a first-of-its-kind mission in space exploration with NASA's Deep Impact program. Ball Aerospace is responsible for development and integration of the mission's flight system, which consists of the flyby spacecraft, the impactor spacecraft, and three science instruments, including telescopes, cameras, and spectrometers for analyzing the interior of the comet.
"To explore the boundaries of the unknown, Ball Aerospace will use its experience in scientific instruments and spacecraft to take advantage of this unique deep space opportunity," said Ball's John Marriott, Deep Impact program manager. "With the University of Maryland and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, we have an outstanding team that is more than capable of implementing challenging deep space solutions."
One of the most spectacular events in the sky is a comet's flight. However, what is known about the composition of comets has been limited to studying materials that are not pristine because they have been processed by solar heat and radiation, which alters their original state. Deep Impact will study the interior of a comet, which astronomers believe contains material unchanged since the formation of the solar system. The mission is scheduled to begin in January 2004, with the impact of comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005. NASA approved development of the mission May 24.
Deep Impact will employ two spacecraft that will launch together and then separate 24 hours before reaching the comet. The first spacecraft is an instrument platform that will fly by the comet and record spectral data and images of the impact. The second spacecraft is the 770-pound, camera-equipped impactor that will slam into a target site on the sunlit side of the comet at 22,300 mph, excavating material from the comet into space.
The kinetic energy of the copper impactor is expected to create a crater as wide as a football field and as deep as a seven-story building and vaporize the impactor in the process. The impactor will return images of the comet to the spacecraft up to the moment of impact. The cratering event will allow measurements to be taken of some of the oldest and most pristine material in our solar system.
Although Ball Aerospace has proven expertise in building spacecraft for Earth orbit and instruments for deep space, Deep Impact is the company's first spacecraft for planetary science.
The total cost of Deep Impact to NASA is $279 million. The principal investigator, Dr. Michael A'Hearn, University of Maryland, will lead the trio consisting of a science team, Ball Aerospace and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"The mission promises to greatly further our understanding of the composition of comets and of the materials and processes that led to the formation of the planets and other bodies in our solar system," said A'Hearn. "Learning more about the composition of comets also should help us better understand the past history and future risks of comet impacts with the Earth."
The public will have opportunities to be directly engaged in the mission by viewing the July 4 impact (the comet, at the time of impact, should be visible low on the horizon, in the constellation Virgo, from the southwestern U.S and Hawaii) both through small telescopes and in nearly real-time images from the flyby spacecraft. Amateur and professional astronomers will be enlisted to host viewing parties that will provide the public with a chance to directly participate in the mission and see the impact. Millions of people will likely be able to view the impact on their home television sets, since images from the spacecraft will be made available via satellite to worldwide media outlets.
Comet Tempel 1 was discovered in 1867. Orbiting the sun every five-and-a-half years, it has made many passages through the inner solar system, which makes it a good target to study evolutionary change in the upper crust of the comet.
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. provides imaging and communications products for commercial and government customers worldwide and is a subsidiary of Ball Corp. (NYSE:BLL), a Fortune 500 company that had sales of $3.7 billion in 2000.
The information in this news release may contain forward looking statements. Actual results or outcomes may differ materially from those expressed or implied. Please refer to the Form 10-Q filed by Ball Corp. on May 16, 2001, for a summary of key risk factors that could affect actual results or outcomes. Key risk factors may include, but are not limited to, industry capacity and competitive activity, authorization, funding and availability of government contracts, customer demand, and U.S. and foreign economic conditions.