A NASA Probe Is Spinning Out Of Control After Handlers Lose Contact

Nasa deep impact comet spacecraftESA/NASANASA’s comet-hunting Deep Impact spacecraft.

NASA lost contact with its Deep Impact spacecraft in mid-August and the comet-hunting probe is now spinning out of control, principal investigator Mike A’Hearn from the University of Maryland
tells Nature News blog.

“Communication with the spacecraft was lost some time between August 11 and August 14,” A’Hearn said in a mission update on Sept. 3. He added: “The last communication was on August 8.”

The cause of the problem appears to be a software glitch, according to Nature News blog. The team is now trying to figure out the best way to recover communications, but are concerned that battery-powered spacecraft, which receives its energy from the sunlight, could give out very soon if the probe’s panels are not oriented toward the sun to catch energy.

“Once the batteries are gone, Deep Impact can no longer be revived,” A’Hearn said.

Deep Impact is the first space mission to look inside a comet. In July 2005, an instrument released by the flyby spacecraft collided with a comet. The spacecraft observed and recorded the impact, sending back information about the structure and composition of the crater’s interior. The spacecraft continued to study comets after that as part of an extended mission.

Most recently, it was being used to observe the comet ISON. Unfortunately, due to the computer bug, the team had not acquired the latest images of ISON, A’Hearn said in the most recent status update.

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