Dec 17, 2007

Deep Impact headed to Comet Hartley 2

A University of Maryland team of astronomers will lead a $40 million NASA effort to use a recycled spacecraft to study a set of planets outside our solar system and then fly the craft within 620 miles of a distant comet for a close look.

The mission, known as EPOXI, will use the Deep Impact spacecraft that made international headlines in 2005 when astronomers launched a probe from it that smashed into Comet Tempel 1.

After completion of Deep Impact's first mission, the team began working to persuade NASA that the spacecraft was capable of continuing to explore space at a fraction of the cost of building and launching a new craft. The mission will be made possible by recalibrating Deep Impact's instruments.

The Deep Impact spacecraft will survey five stars that have Jupiter-size planets, looking for planets capable of supporting life. Work will begin in January and last about six months. The craft will then head toward a meeting with comet Hartley 2 in 2010; it will use its two telescopes and infrared spectrometer to study the half-mile-wide comet. Link


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