NASA announced this week that it had lost communications with one of its exploration spacecraft called Deep Impact. The mission of the spacecraft was to study comets and look for extrasolar planets. NASA announced that it lost communications with the spacecraft on Wednesday.
The last communication successfully completed with Deep Impact was on August 8. At this point NASA doesn’t know exactly what caused the problem but engineers suspect a software glitch is causing the spacecraft computers to continually reboot. In that situation, the spacecraft would be unable the fire steering thrusters to position itself to communicate with Earth.
The engineers believe there is also a chance that the spacecraft solar panel may not be pointing at the sun, leaving it unable to gather power. NASA says that its engineers are currently trying to determine the best way to recover communications. Deep Impact was originally tasked with releasing an 820-pound metal slug to smash into the nucleus of the Temple 1 comet. The intent was to produce a plume of material from the comet that could be studied by scientists.
Deep Impact launched in July of 2005. After completing its primary mission, it investigated a second comet called Hartley 2. It also investigated two other comets from a long distance. The extended mission for the spacecraft was to search for extrasolar planets. The next major mission for the Deep Impact spacecraft was to head towards an asteroid approaching Earth called 2002 GT. That asteroid is considered a hazardous object because its orbit will bring it as close as 4.7 million miles from Earth.