NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft is in deep problem. The craft, famous for blast a projectile into the Comet Tempel 1, lost contact with Earth sometime between 11 August and 14 August. Recent instructions to put the craft in hibernation, or secure mode, were ineffective, and Deep Impact is now rotating out of control, says principal investigator Michael A’Hearn of the University of Maryland in College Park. The job was renamed Epoxi when it was extensive to view comets and stars with transiting exoplanets.
Engineers have traced the trouble to a software-communications glitch that rearranges the craft’s computer. They are now working on instructions that could bring Deep Impact back into process. They may try to converse with the spacecraft this weekend, but the team first has to figure out its most likely orientation and whether to transmit signal to the vehicle’s high-gain or low-gain antenna.
Mission scientists are race beside the clock because the craft’s battery rely on power provide by Deep Impact’s solar panels. If the panels on the wayward craft happen to be point in a way where they receive incomplete sunlight, the batteries could last for a few months. But if the panels are pointed away from the Sun, the batteries would die in just a few days. Once the batteries are gone, Deep Impact can no longer be revived. One casualty of the mishap is that scientists have not established any of the probable images the craft was listed to take in August of Comet ISON, the icy space rock that could make a spectacle in the inner Solar System this fall before diving into the Sun.