Space

NASA loses contact with Deep Impact probe

Deep Impact carried an impactor probe, which it launched at comet Tempel 1 in 2005 (Image: NASA)
Deep Impact carried an impactor probe, which it launched at comet Tempel 1 in 2005 (Image: NASA)
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NASA believes that Deep Impactor's computers keep trying to reboot themselves (Image: NASA)
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NASA believes that Deep Impactor's computers keep trying to reboot themselves (Image: NASA)
Deep Impact carried an impactor probe, which it launched at comet Tempel 1 in 2005 (Image: NASA)
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Deep Impact carried an impactor probe, which it launched at comet Tempel 1 in 2005 (Image: NASA)

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.

NASA believes that Deep Impactor's computers keep trying to reboot themselves (Image: NASA)
NASA believes that Deep Impactor's computers keep trying to reboot themselves (Image: NASA)

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.

Source: NASA via Nature

3 comments
Jeff Michelson
Shame, this. These missions are some of the most economical and most productive of the lot, when comparing to the ISS or other manned space missions. We get so much more bang for our science buck by having SIRI in the sky as opposed to Major Tom.
Zaron Gibson
This would truly be a shame. This craft has done so much for us already and it would be a huge asset to have it continue.
Photon
Doesn't it seem odd that it took five years for a software bug to show up? Maybe Deep Impact saw something it shouldn't -- like an approaching alien fleet? Maybe Hubble should take a look in that direction. Or maybe I should go back to watching my Star Trek show.