WASHINGTON, 5 January 2005. NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft is scheduled to launch on Jan. 12 at about 1:48 p.m. EST. Liftoff will occur aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Pad 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Fla.
Deep Impact is an ambitious mission aiming to blast a hole in comet Tempel 1 in an effort to see what it's made of.
Comets like Tempel 1 are thought to have existed since the early days of our Solar System. Scientists suspect that frozen within these celestial nomads are the same chemical building blocks that lead to the formation of water -- and life -- here on Earth. Do comets and our own planet have something in common? This mission could answer the question once and for all.
KSC is responsible for managing the launch, and JPL is responsible for mission management. Delta II launch service is provided by Boeing Expendable Launch Systems. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation built the spacecraft for NASA.
The mission is designed for a six-month, one-way, 431 million kilometer (268 million mile) voyage. Deep Impact will deploy a probe that essentially will be "run over" by the nucleus of comet Tempel 1 at approximately 37,000 kph (23,000 mph).
"From central Florida to the surface of a comet in six months is almost instant gratification from a deep space mission viewpoint," said Rick Grammier, Deep Impact project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif. "It is going to be an exciting mission, and we can all witness its culmination together as Deep Impact provides the planet with its first man-made celestial fireworks on our nation's birthday, July 4th."
The fireworks will be courtesy of a 1-by-1-meter (39-by-39 inches) copper-fortified probe. It is designed to obliterate itself, as it excavates a crater possibly large enough to swallow the Roman Coliseum. Before, during and after the demise of this 372-kilogram (820-pound) impactor, a nearby spacecraft will be watching the 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) wide comet nucleus, collecting pictures and data of the event.
"We will be capturing the whole thing on the most powerful camera to fly in deep space," said University of Maryland astronomy professor Dr. Michael A'Hearn, Deep Impact's principal investigator. "We know so little about the structure of cometary nuclei that we need exceptional equipment to ensure that we capture the event, whatever the details of the impact turn out to be."
Imagery and other data from the Deep Impact cameras will be sent back to Earth through the antennas of the Deep Space Network. But they will not be the only eyes on the prize. NASA's Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes will be observing from near-Earth space. Hundreds of miles below, professional and amateur astronomers on Earth will also be able to observe the material flying from the comet's newly formed crater.
Deep Impact will provide a glimpse beneath the surface of a comet, where material and debris from the solar system's formation remain relatively unchanged. Mission scientists are confident the project will answer basic questions about the formation of the solar system, by offering a better look at the nature and composition of the celestial travelers we call comets.
"Understanding conditions that lead to the formation of planets is a goal of NASA's mission of exploration," said Andy Dantzler, acting director of the Solar System division at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "Deep Impact is a bold, innovative and exciting mission which will attempt something never done before to try to uncover clues about our own origins."
With a closing speed of about 37,000 kph (23,000 mph), what of the washing machine-sized impactor and its mountain-sized quarry?
"In the world of science, this is the astronomical equivalent of a 767 airliner running into a mosquito," said Don Yeomans, a Deep Impact mission scientist at JPL. "It simply will not appreciably modify the comet's orbital path. Comet Tempel 1 poses no threat to the Earth now or in the foreseeable future."
The prelaunch press conference is at the NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) News Center at 1 p.m. EST Tuesday, Jan. 11. Participants in the briefing will include:
-- Orlando Figueroa, Director, Solar System Exploration Division NASA HQ, Washington
-- Omar Baez, NASA Launch Director/NASA Launch Manager, KSC
-- Kris Walsh, Director of NASA Programs, Boeing Expendable Launch Systems, Huntington Beach, Calif.
-- Rick Grammier, Deep Impact Project Manager Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
-- Monte Henderson, Deputy Program Manager Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.
-- Joel Tumbiolo, USAF Delta II Launch Weather Officer 45th Weather Squadron, CCAFS
A mission science briefing immediately follows the press conference, with:
-- Dr. Tom Morgan, Deep Impact Program Scientist, NASA HQ
-- Dr. Mike A'Hearn, Deep Impact Principal Investigator, University of Maryland
-- Dr. Jay Melosh, Co-Investigator, University of Arizona, Tucson
-- Dr. Lucy McFadden, Co-Investigator, University of Maryland
Launch coverage begins Wednesday, Jan. 12 at 11:30 a.m. EST and concludes approximately one hour after launch. NASA TV is available on the Web and via satellite in the continental U.S. on AMC-6, Transponder 9C, C-Band, at 72 degrees west longitude. The frequency is 3880.0 MHz. Polarization is vertical, and audio is monaural at 6.80 MHz. In Alaska and Hawaii, NASA TV is available on AMC-7, Transponder 18C, C-Band, at 137 degrees west longitude. The frequency is 4060.0 MHz. Polarization is vertical, and audio is monaural at 6.80 MHz. For NASA TV information and schedules on the Internet, see www.nasa.gov/ntv.
For more information about the mission, see www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/deepimpact/launch/event.html.