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Follow NASA's Deep Impact space probe as it hits Comet Tempel 1, giving humanity the first glimpse into the frozen heart of the rocky snowball. Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.

0700 GMT (3:00 a.m. EDT)

NASA's Deep Impact probe released a compact, instrumented smart bomb Sunday, a copper-clad robotic kamikaze programmed to place itself in the path of a speeding comet early Monday for a scientifically spectacular 23,000-mph Fourth of July collision. Read our full story.

0657 GMT (2:57 a.m. EDT)

JPL will host a news conference at 2 p.m. EDT. The first pictures from the impactor are expected to be released at that time.

0634 GMT (2:34 a.m. EDT)

All of tonight's activities appear to have gone very successfully. The impactor has been deployed to collide with Comet Tempel 1 at 1:52 a.m. EDT Monday and the mothership has adjusted its trajectory to watch the cosmic smash and then fly about 300 miles below the frigid nucleus.

0632 GMT (2:32 a.m. EDT)

Divert maneuver complete! The mothership has finished its lengthy thruster firing, enabling it to safely fly past the comet on Monday morning. This maneuver also served to slow the craft's speed by about 227 miles per hour, creating a window of time to observe the impactor smashing into the comet.

0629 GMT (2:29 a.m. EDT)

The four-degree attitude error seen on the mothership just after impactor separation was expected, JPL says. There were no problems experienced.

0628 GMT (2:28 a.m. EDT)

Pressures are still as expected as the maneuver passes the two-thirds mark.

0625 GMT (2:25 a.m. EDT)

The burn continues to go smoothly. A half-degree error will be cleaned up at the end of the burn. controllers say.

0623 GMT (2:23 a.m. EDT)

With one-third of the divert maneuver complete, no problems are being reported, thruster pressures are normal and all subsystems are green.

0622 GMT (2:22 a.m. EDT)

Health check of the impactor shows green status across the board.

0620 GMT (2:20 a.m. EDT)

The mothership's thrusters are firing for the start of this 775-second divert maneuver, the longest engine burn performed by the craft to date. Meanwhile, all of the S-band telemetry interfaces with the impactor are normal.

0617 GMT (2:17 a.m. EDT)

Contact with the impactor has been established. Data files are being downlinked from the craft as mission control breaks out in applause.

0615 GMT (2:15 a.m. EDT)

The mothership's S-band telemetry transmitter is operating to relay the first data from the now free-flying impactor spacecraft.

0613 GMT (2:13 a.m. EDT)

A poll has been completed and the "go" was declared for the divert maneuver by the mothership, putting the craft on a trajectory to pass below the comet. The attitude fault condition reported by mission control after separation does not appear serious.

0609 GMT (2:09 a.m. EDT)

Mission controllers are looking at an orientation control fault on the mothership after separation. The craft's attitude is reported out of alignment by 4 to 4.5 degrees.

0607 GMT (2:07 a.m. EDT)

SEPARATION CONFIRMED! The impactor spacecraft has been deployed from the mothership for its 24-hour voyage to Comet Tempel 1!

0605 GMT (2:05 a.m. EDT)

The final tension-filled minutes are ticking down.

0550 GMT (1:50 a.m. EDT)

The point of no return has been passed. There is no longer enough time to send a "stop" command to halt the deployment. Mission control expects to receive confirmation of separation at 2:07 a.m. EDT.

0529 GMT (1:29 a.m. EDT)

The flight control team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been polled for a "go/no go" status. Everyone is reporting "go" for impactor release on time.

0516 GMT (1:16 a.m. EDT)

The impactor began running on its battery power at 1:11 a.m. EDT, mission control says. All systems are "go" for deployment as the mothership re-orients itself to the separation position.

0426 GMT (12:26 a.m. EDT)

The "go" has been given to transition the impactor spacecraft to its internal power for the upcoming separation from the mothership. Warmup of the impactor's battery has been completed.

0255 GMT (10:55 p.m. EDT Sat.)

Deep Impact has completed its trajectory correction maneuver as planned this evening.


It will be a busy evening for the Deep Impact spacecraft tonight. A course-tweaking engine firing, deployment of the impactor and the mothership's comet deflection maneuver are scheduled during a few-hour period.

The action begins around 8:07 p.m. EDT (0007 GMT) with the final targeting maneuver by the mothership. This procedure is designed to target a window 9 miles wide for the impactor projectile to follow during its cruise to the comet.

The battery pack aboard the impactor will be activated at 9:57 p.m. EDT (0157 GMT) in preparation for separation from the mothership. In the final hours before release, the mothership adjusts its orientation, turns on heaters and arms separation actuators.

The actual deployment occurs at 2:07 a.m. EDT (0607 GMT) as electrical disconnect actuators and separation pyros fire. A spring-loaded split of the two spacecraft allows the mothership and impactor to move away from each other at 0.78 mph.

"Just after release, the impactor will use its thrusters to de-tumble itself, stabilize itself, and point its camera directly at the comet," said Dave Spencer, Deep Impact mission manager at JPL.

Twelve minutes after separation, the mothership re-orients itself and fires thrusters for the comet deflection maneuver. This 14-minute maneuver drives the craft away from the impactor's path, enabling it to safely fly past the comet on Monday morning. This will be the longest burn of the mothership's thrusters thus far in the mission.

The maneuver also serves to slow the craft's speed by about 227 miles per hour, creating a window of time to observe the impactor smashing into the comet. "This slow-down maneuver will allow it to image the impact event itself and the subsequent crater formation for about 13 minutes after impact," Spencer said.

"The time of comet encounter is near and the major mission milestones are getting closer and closer together," Rick Grammier, Deep Impact project manager said Friday. "After all the years of design, training and simulations, we are where we want to be. The flight and science teams are working the mission plan, and we are good to go for encounter."

"We've completed the final pre-release checkout of the impactor. The impactor probe will have a short, 24 hour life from release to impact, but an incredibly important role," Spencer said.

Watch this page for confirmation of impactor separation.


NASA's Deep Impact mission promises to create spectacular July Fourth fireworks in space when it shoots a 820-pound copper-tipped bullet into the frigid heart of Comet Tempel 1, creating a window to materials frozen in time since the solar system was born.

The washing machine-sized projectile will be released from its mothership spacecraft at 2:07 a.m. EDT (0607 GMT) Sunday for the day-long cruise to oblivion.

"We put the impactor in the comet's path so that the comet overtakes it. So it is like standing in the middle of the road with semi truck bearing down on you," said Rick Grammier, Deep Impact project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The impactor and comet collide at 1:52 a.m. EDT (0552 GMT) Monday, releasing the energy equivalent of 4.5 tons of exploding TNT as they smash together at 23,000 mph. The intense forces vaporize the projectile as the circular crater -- perhaps 300 feet in diameter and 100 feet deep -- is rapidly excavated.

"We expect it could put a crater about the size of a house up to the size of a football stadium and it could be anywhere from seven to 14 stories deep," Grammier said.

"As a result of forming the crater, it will throw out a bunch of the surface and interior material that is displaced. It will come up in a big cloud that will reflect the sunlight. So you will see a large brightening, and you will see that brightening from telescopes on Earth as well. Then you will see it slowly dissipate as the material either settles back down onto the comet itself or becomes part of its coma dust cloud. What we are hoping to see to from the flyby spacecraft viewpoint is being able to look all the way down into the interior of the crater and determine what its materials are made of," Grammier continued.

"Since these are the original remnants of the solar system formation, not knowing how the exterior of a comet relates to interior, what we are hoping to do is expose all of that fresh material and see the material that was actually present at the formation of the solar system."

"By understanding and watching how this crater develops, and then fine-tuning our computer models to reproduce what is actually observed, we can determine how the comet is put together," added Don Yeomans, Deep Impact project scientist from the Jet Propulsion Lab.

The impactor, a stubby-nosed bullet about two-and-a-half feet tall and three feet in diameter, sports a manhole cover-sized disc of copper with even more copper mass behind it to penetrate as deep into the comet as possible. A quarter of the impactor's launch weight is copper.

"We don't know what comets are made of, we don't know how strong they are. They could be weak and fluffy like a bowl of corn flakes, it could be like a concrete sidewalk that we are hitting. Part of the challenge in the design of the impactor was to take into account either possibility," Jay Melosh, Deep Impact co-investigator.

Comets are wandering cosmic time capsules preserving 4.5-billion-year-old primordial material that holds the chemical records of the solar system's creation. Deep Impact's violent rendezvous with Tempel 1 is designed to burst through the crust coating the comet's nucleus, form a stadium-sized crater and offer an unprecedented glimpse at ancient ices packed beneath the surface.

"What we see coming out of comets as gas and dust is stuff that has been modified because it is very near the surface, and every time the comet goes around the sun the surface gets heated. So there have been changes in the surface layers... What I really want to do is figure out how different the surface is from what's inside," said Michael A'Hearn, astronomer from the University of Maryland and the Deep Impact principal investigator.

The pristine building blocks buried inside these rocky snowballs will tell astronomers what conditions were like when the solar system was spawning planets. Uncovering the compositional fingerprints of comets has become a priority for scientists because these objects peppered the young Earth, possibly delivering the organic materials needed for the rise of life, the water for our oceans and even playing a role in generating the atmosphere.

"Deep Impact is a bold, innovative and exciting mission which will attempt something never done before to try to uncover clues about our own origins," said Andy Dantzler, acting director of the Solar System Division at NASA Headquarters.

"Why understand comets? Why study comets at all? Comets are the most primitive bodies in our solar system and they are made up of the very material from which all of the planets and the sun, in fact, are made."

Discovered on April 3, 1867 by Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel in Marseilles, France, Comet 9P/Tempel 1 currently circles the sun every 5.5 years. Its orbit lies between Mars and Jupiter, providing the Deep Impact mission a perfect target for reaching with a modest launch vehicle, striking at high speed and being visible from Earth at impact.

The impactor is equipped with an autonomous navigation computer, cameras and a propulsion system to guide itself toward a suitable impact point that is well lit. After releasing the impactor, the mothership performs an evasive maneuver, plotting a trajectory to fly past the comet shortly after the impact.

"Early images from the impactor are mainly for navigation... to make sure that it hits in an illuminated area and not in a dark area. As we get closer, those images become important for science because as we get closer and closer we will get higher and higher spatial resolution. We will directly see the change in texture as you change spatial scale. Assuming the camera on the impactor survives until very shortly before impact, these will be the highest resolution pictures ever of a cometary nucleus, much higher than we will get from the flyby [spacecraft]," A'Hearn said.

Sophisticated instruments on the mothership will record the blast and peer into a crater that is formed. Meanwhile, observatories around the globe, plus the Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer space telescopes, will be watching the aftermath to collect crucial information about the dusts and gases blown out of Tempel 1.

Sky watchers in the western U.S., Hawaii, New Zealand, eastern Australia and the South Pacific could be able to see the impact, which happens 83 million miles away from Earth.

"We expect to provide some great fireworks for all our observatories," said Karen Meech, Deep Impact co-Investigator at the Institute for Astronomy in Hilo, Hawaii "That's exciting, to do it on July Fourth."

The flyby craft will be using its spectrometer to identify and quantify the materials across the comet's dust- and gas-filled coma head and taking images in a wide variety of different colors. Since the nucleus is believed to have a 41-hour rotational period, less than half will be seen at good resolution.

"Shortly before the time of impact, the flyby spacecraft determines how fast it is having to rotate to keep the high-resolution camera pointed at the nucleus. It uses that to calculate when it will be at closest approach and then knowing the difference velocity, when the impactor will impact. It sends that information up to the impactor so the impactor can optimize the imaging sequence at the expected time of impact. Flyby uses it internally, also, to optimize the imaging sequence for the time of closest approach," A'Hearn said.

Information from both craft is fed back to Earth in real-time in case comet shrapnel fatally wounds the mothership during the encounter.

The impact occurs with the mothership 5,400 miles away and closing fast. The medium-resolution camera will be taking pictures as swiftly as possible to capture the moment of impact. "We are hoping to catch a bright flash that will last less than a second by taking four or eight frames per second," A'Hearn said. The high-resolution camera snaps pictures at a slower pace.

Scientists expect the materials thrown out of the freshly bored hole will settle within a few minutes, permitting good visibility into the crater. The mothership has less than 14 minutes to make its observations while zooming toward the comet before passing by Tempel 1 at a distance of 300 miles. The craft enters a "shield mode" to protect itself from the powerful sandblasting during flight through the coma at closest approach.

"Our baseline is it will take 200 seconds to form the crater, but uncertainties in the density of the nucleus - something that we just don't know - the crater could take as long as 600 seconds to form. This was one of our mission design problems, making sure we had long enough interval to observe so that we make sure the crater finished forming before we flew by but keeping the interval small enough that we weren't so far away at the time of impact that we had no resolution. This what led us to the 800-second window between impact and the going into our shield mode through the innermost coma," A'Hearn said.

"The biggest uncertainty in the mission is what the phenomena will be at the time of impact. And that is because there are many different ideas in the scientific community about the nature of the cometary nucleus.

"There are some people in the community who think the nuclei are strong and that we will have an ejecta cone that leaves the nucleus entirely. We think the cone will stay attached to the nucleus and the crater will be controlled by gravity.

"Other people think we will fracture the nucleus into several pieces, other people think we may just compress material downward and not eject anything outward, or almost nothing outward," A'Hearn said. "It is this uncertainty in the predictions, or the wide range of predictions, that makes it particularly important to do this conceptually very simple experiment."

Deep Impact has just one shot at grabbing scientific data on the primordial material packed inside the comet.

"We do maps across the nucleus after the impact to try and get spectra of the crater floor, see how different it is from the neighboring terrain that is undisturbed," A'Hearn said. "We take some spectra off the limb to look at the gases that are coming out of the crater. As we get very close, we actually have to let the camera drift a little and take a couple of images to make sure we get crater in the high-resolution camera."

What might the craft see down in the crater?

"My guess is if we excavate more deeply, we will see more carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, dry ice vaporizing instead of water ice vaporizing," A'Hearn said. "The more volatile ices have been depleted in the surface layers. That's the kind of signature that we're looking for, to see how that composition changes."

About 50 seconds before closest approach, the flyby craft orients itself with protective shielding guarding against a destructive hit by comet dust.

"We've designed extra shielding on certain parts of the spacecraft. So when I say it turns to shield mode, what that means is it actually places those shields in the direction of the cometary dust and debris. That is meant to protect the spacecraft itself from any particle hits. That shielding was designed based on what we know today of probable particle sizes, distribution and density at that distance from the comet," Grammier said.

Despite the added protection, the mothership will be relaying its pictures and information to Earth live in case the craft doesn't survive the encounter to tell the tale afterward.

"There are worries, that is why we are transmitting as much as we can in real-time, as much as the communications system will allow us to," A'Hearn said. "The engineers have predicted that the probability of a fatal hit is down at the one or a couple percent level, given the amount of shielding we have."

Once through the dangerous region, the departing mothership maneuvers to observe the comet's back side a quarter-hour after closest approach.

"We fly through the innermost coma, fly through the orbital plane and then turn around and look back... to take images of the other side. When we take pictures of the other side, the crater itself will be hidden, but we will still be looking to see if we can see ejecta from the crater. A likely scenario is that after we make the crater, there will be a lot spontaneous outgasing from the floor of the crater because there is very volatile ice near the surface that used to be buried deeply. There is a reasonable chance that we would see a new jet in the coma coming from the crater - and we would see it where it comes out from behind the limb of the nucleus," A'Hearn said.

"We also use these look-back images to figure out the three-dimensional shape of the nucleus since we don't get to see a full rotation. We do the look-back monitoring for up to a day after impact."

Ground-based telescopes in Hawaii will have prime viewing with the comet high in the sky at the time of impact, while the southwestern U.S. and Baja California will have Tempel 1 low in the sky. But a global campaign is underway to provide thorough monitoring of the comet before and after the collision with special imaging techniques.

"We may create this new jet that may persist for hours or days or weeks or even months. So we are looking for observations afterwards," A'Hearn said.

"We are trying to get complete longitude coverage so we can monitor the comet continuously from something like four days before the impact - two rotation periods - until a week after the impact."

"At the time of encounter, we may be able to see a bright flash of light momentarily," Meech said. "But the main part that we're going to be looking for from the ground will be some of the long-term effects. For example, as the dust from this newly excavated crater starts to flow away from the comet, it will take many days to spread...and form a nice dust tail.

"Ground-based observations with a wide-angle field of view can best watch the tail develop. In addition, we will get to look at wavelength regions we won't have on the spacecraft and can look for molecules coming outside from the nucleus, different types of molecules. We're hoping to see a change in the chemistry after the impact as compared to pre impact.

"So there will be a lot of exciting various observatories all over the world," she said. "Basically, everybody's going to be able to participate."

The impact will have no detectable influence on the comet's orbit around the sun, scientists say.

"In the world of science, this is the astronomical equivalent of a 767 airliner running into a mosquito," Yeomans said. "The impact simply will not appreciably modify the comet's orbital path. Comet Tempel 1 poses no threat to the Earth now or in the foreseeable future."

The mission follows NASA's Stardust project that flew past Comet Wild 2 in 2004, catching dust particles for return to Earth next year. The European Rosetta mission is currently flying to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko where a tiny lander will be dispatched to the frigid nucleus.

"The last 24 hours of the impactor's life should provide the most spectacular data in the history of cometary science," A'Hearn said. "With the information we receive after the impact, it will be a whole new ballgame. We know so little about the structure of cometary nuclei that almost every moment we expect to learn something new."

TUESDAY, JUNE 28, 2005

NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft have observed a massive, short-lived outburst of ice or other particles from comet Tempel 1 that temporarily expanded the size and reflectivity of the cloud of dust and gas (coma) that surrounds the comet nucleus. Read our full story.

The Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite has been asleep on orbit for the past 11 months. SWAS operators placed it into hibernation after a highly successful 5.5-year mission highlighted by the discovery of a swarm of comets evaporating around an aging red giant star. Now, they have awakened SWAS again for the first-ever opportunity to study a comet on a collision course with a U.S. space probe. Read our full story.

MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2005

In a dress rehearsal for the rendezvous between NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft and comet 9P/Tempel 1, the Hubble Space Telescope captured dramatic images of a new jet of dust streaming from the icy comet. Read our full story.

FRIDAY, JUNE 17, 2005

Fingerprinting a comet
The Submillimeter Array will be ready and watching when NASA's Deep Impact probe strikes the nucleus of Comet Tempel 1 on July 4th. The impact is expected to excavate material from the comet's interior-material left over from the earliest days of our solar system. Read our full story.


Are meteor showers misunderstood?
NASA's Deep Impact mission is about to smash into comet 9P/Tempel 1 to excavate a crater and probe the comet's internal structure. It's possible, however, that the comet will break into fragments, creating a cloud of meteoroids. That, say astronomers, may not be unnatural. Read our full story.


On July 4, NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft will attempt an extraordinarily daring encounter with the far-flung comet Tempel 1 hurtling through space at tens of thousands of miles per hour. As if that is not challenging enough, the comet's size, shape and other characteristics are not entirely known. Read our full story.

Read our earlier launch coverage.