NASA spacecraft on final approach toward comet

Nov 02, 2010
EPOXI navigation team members and engineers were in mission control for the final flight-path maneuver before the spacecraft's planned Nov. 4 flyby of comet Hartley 2. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(PhysOrg.com) -- The EPOXI mission spacecraft has refined its path toward a Nov. 4 flyby of comet Hartley 2, successfully performing its final maneuver today at 8 a.m. PDT (11 a.m. EDT). The spacecraft burned its engines for 6.8 seconds, changing the spacecraft's velocity by 1.4 meters per second (3 miles per hour).

"I've worked the Stardust of comet Wild 2 and the Deep Impact encounter with , and I have never seen a comet flit around the sky like this one," said mission navigator Shyam Bhaskaran of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We needed to make this burn to re-locate the spacecraft for the 700-kilometer [about 435 miles] flyby distance."

Part of the reason Hartley 2 is hard to pin down is because the small comet is very active.

"Hartley 2 is one-seventh the size of comet Tempel 1, but it releases almost the same amount of material into the space environment," said EPOXI Principal Investigator Mike A'Hearn of the University of Maryland. "These jets can act as thrusters and actually make small changes to the comet's orbit around the sun."

On Thursday, Nov. 4, the spacecraft will fly past the comet, with closest approach expected about 7 a.m. PDT [10 a.m. EDT]. This flyby will mark the fifth time in history that a spacecraft has been close enough to image the heart of the comet, more commonly known as the nucleus.

EPOXI is an extended mission that uses the already "in-flight" Deep Impact spacecraft to explore distinct celestial targets of opportunity. The name EPOXI itself is a combination of the names for the two extended mission components: the extrasolar planet observations, called Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh), and the flyby of comet Hartley 2, called the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI). The spacecraft will continue to be referred to as "."

Explore further: India launches biggest ever rocket into space

Related Stories

NASA prepares for EPOXI mission comet flyby

Oct 28, 2010

In one of its final mission trajectory correction maneuvers, the EPOXI mission spacecraft has refined its orbit, preparing it for the flyby of comet Hartley 2 on Nov. 4. The time of closest approach to the ...

NASA's EPOXI mission sets up for comet flyby

Sep 30, 2010

Earlier yesterday, navigators and mission controllers for NASA's EPOXI mission watched their computer screens as 23.6 million kilometers (14.7 million miles) away, their spacecraft successfully performed its ...

NASA mission 'E-Minus' one month to comet flyby

Oct 05, 2010

Fans of space exploration are familiar with the term T-minus, which NASA uses as a countdown to a rocket launch. But what of those noteworthy mission events where you already have a spacecraft in space, as ...

Recommended for you

Politics no problem, say US and Russian spacefarers

12 hours ago

US-Russian ties may have returned to Cold War levels, but an astronaut and a cosmonaut gearing up for the longest flight on the International Space Station said Thursday politics would not disrupt their work ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.