NASA gives two successful spacecraft new assignments
NASA NEWS RELEASE
Posted: July 5, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Two NASA spacecraft now have new assignments after successfully completing their missions. The duo will make new observations of comets and characterize extrasolar planets. Stardust and Deep Impact will use their flight-proven hardware to perform new, previously unplanned, investigations.
The EPOXI mission melds two compelling science investigations -- the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI) and the Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization (EPOCh). Both investigations will be performed using the Deep Impact spacecraft, which finished its prime mission in 2005.
DIXI will involve a flyby of comet Boethin, which has never been explored. Boethin is a small, short period comet, or one that returns frequently to the inner solar system, from beyond Jupiter's orbit. This investigation will allow the recovery of some of the science lost with the 2002 failure of the COmet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) mission that was designed to make comparative studies of multiple comets. DIXI will be targeted to fly by comet Boethin December 5, 2008.
The EPOCh investigation also will use the Deep Impact spacecraft to observe several nearby bright stars, watching as the giant planets already known to be orbiting the stars pass in front of and then behind them. The collected data will be used to characterize the giant planets and to determine whether they possess rings, moons, or Earth-sized planetary companions. EPOCh's sensitivity will exceed both current ground and space-based observatory capabilities. EPOCh also will measure the mid-infrared spectrum of the Earth, providing comparative data for future efforts to study the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. This search for extrasolar planets will be made this year, en route to comet Boethin.
Michael A'Hearn of the University of Maryland, College Park, is EPOXI's principal investigator and the leader of the DIXI science team. L. Drake Deming of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md., is EPOXI's deputy principal investigator and leads the EPOCh investigation.
John Mather, Chief Scientist for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said, "EPOXI is a wonderful opportunity to add to our growing body of knowledge of exoplanets. Watching planets go behind or in front of their parent stars can tell us about their atmospheric chemistry."
Joseph Veverka of Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, is NExT's principal investigator.
Stardust launched in Feb. 7, 1999. It traveled over 2 billion miles to fly within 150 miles of the comet Wild 2 in January 2004 to bring back samples that may provide new insights into the composition of comets and how they vary from one another. The container with the comet samples returned to Earth in January 2006 while the rest of the spacecraft remained in space.
Created in 1992, NASA's Discovery Program sponsors frequent, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. In 2006, NASA received approximately two dozen proposals in response to an Announcement of Opportunity for Discovery missions and Missions of Opportunity. Proposals were evaluated for scientific merit, technical, management and cost feasibility.
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