The last radio communications with the Deep Impact spacecraft were on
Engineers suspect a software glitch is causing Deep Impact's computers to continually re-boot, crippling its ability to fire its steering thrusters and position itself for communications with Earth. The spacecraft's solar panel may also not be pointing toward the sun to generate power.
"The team is now trying to determine how best to try to recover communication," lead scientist Michael A'Hearn, at the
The next attempt to contact the spacecraft is expected this weekend, said
Deep Impact was launched in
As the probe's name implies, the primary mission, which took place in
Five years later, Deep Impact sailed by a second comet, Hartley 2, and has made long-distance observations of two other comets, including the recently discovered Comet ISON, which is heading toward a close encounter with the sun in November.
In its extended mission, Deep Impact was used to search for extrasolar planets. With no more fuel for comet visits, the probe has been heading toward the only target it could reach, an asteroid approaching Earth called 2002 GT.
Since the asteroid's orbit brings it as close as 4.7 million miles (7.5 million km) to Earth, astronomers consider it a hazardous object and gained approval from
More recently, Deep Impact was playing a role in an ongoing campaign to study Comet ISON, which scientists believe is making its first pass through the inner solar system.
Deep Impact began making observations in January that showed the comet brightening in a matter of hours.
ISON is expected to be within Deep Impact's view through September and again in March through
The spacecraft returned its first images of ISON in January.
"We have not received any of our expected observations of comet ISON due to a spacecraft problem," A'Hearn wrote.
Comet ISON, which was discovered in
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