"Deep Impact has begun its journey to comet Tempel 1," said Rick Grammier, Deep Impact project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "First to Florida, then to space, and then to the comet itself. It will be quite a journey and one which we can all witness together."
The Deep Impact spacecraft is designed to launch a copper projectile into the surface of comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005, when the comet is 133.6 million kilometers (83 million miles) from Earth. When this 372-kilogram (820-pound) "impactor" hits the surface of the comet at approximately 37,000 kilometers per hour (23,000 miles per hour), the 1-by-1 meter projectile (39-by-39 inches) will create a crater that could be as large as a football field. Deep Impact's "flyby" spacecraft will collect pictures and data of the event. It will send the data back to Earth through the antennas of the Deep Space Network. Professional and amateur astronomers on Earth will also be able to observe the material flying from the comet's newly formed crater, adding to the data and images collected by the Deep Impact spacecraft and other telescopes. Tempel 1 poses no threat to Earth in the foreseeable future.
Today at Astrotech, Deep Impact is being removed from its shipping container, the first of the numerous milestones to prepare it for launch. Later this week, the spacecraft will begin functional testing to verify its state of health after the over-the-road journey from Colorado. This will be followed by loading updated flight software and beginning a series of mission readiness tests. These tests involve the entire spacecraft flight system that includes the flyby and impactor, as well as the associated science instruments and the spacecraft's basic subsystems.
Next, the high gain antenna used for spacecraft communications will be installed. The solar array will then be stowed and an illumination test performed as a final check of its performance. Then, Deep Impact will be ready for fueling preparations. Once this is complete, the 976-kilogram spacecraft (2,152 pounds) will be mated atop the upper stage booster, the Delta rocket's third stage. The integrated stack will be installed into a transportation canister in preparation for going to the launch pad in mid- December.
Once at the pad and hoisted onto the Boeing Delta II rocket, a brief functional test will be performed to re-verify spacecraft state of health. Next will be an integrated test with the Delta II before installing the fairing around the spacecraft.
Deep Impact mission scientists are confident that an intimate glimpse beneath the surface of a comet, where material and debris from the formation of the solar system remain relatively unchanged, will answer basic questions about the formation of the solar system and offer a better look at the nature and composition of these celestial wanderers.
Launch aboard the Boeing Delta II rocket is scheduled to occur on Dec. 30 from Launch Complex 17 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The launch window extends from 2:39 to 3:19 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (11:39 a.m. to 12:19 p.m. Pacific Standard Time)
The overall Deep Impact mission management for this Discovery class program is conducted by the University of Maryland, College Park, Md. Deep Impact project management is by JPL. The spacecraft has been built for NASA by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, Boulder, Colo. The spacecraft/launch vehicle integration and launch countdown management are the responsibility of the Launch Services Program office headquartered at Kennedy Space Center.
Photos of Deep Impact’s arrival and processing can be found at the
following URL. Additional photos will be added to the page as they
are available: http://mediaarchive.ksc.nasa.gov/search.cfm?cat=126
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