NASA appears to have lost contact with the Deep Impact space probe. Launched in 2005, the unmanned spacecraft has had a long career making flybys of various comets, but NASA says that mission control lost communications with the probe on August 8 and has been unable to restore the link.
NASA believes that the problem with Deep Impact is a software error causing its computers to continuously reboot. Space agency engineers are trying to revive the craft, but if they are unable to do so soon, there is a real danger of Deep Impact being lost for good.
Without the computers, the probe cannot maintain attitude control. If this happens, the spacecraft will start to tumble and be unable to point its antennas at Earth. Worse, since the craft’s solar panels are on only one side, there is the danger that the batteries won’t charge properly, shutting it down for lack of power.
If Deep Impact is lost, it will mark the end of a very long and successful career. According to NASA, it has already traveled 4.7 billion miles (7.58 billion km). On its encounter with the comet Tempel 1, Deep impact fired an impactor containing and instrument package into the comet’s nucleus, and was later put on extended missions that saw it flyby comet Hartley 2 in 2010, comet C/2009/1 in 2012 and comet ISON in 2013.
In 2011, Deep Impact was re-targeted to intercept asteroid (163249) 2002GT in 2020, though that mission is now in jeopardy.