NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft was declared dead on Friday after scientists were unable to reach it for more than a month.
The program lasted for eight years, though it achieved its original mission in the first six months of operation. During its time, the probe slammed an impactor into a comet, flew by a second, and took distant photos of two more.
The impact allowed scientists to study the composition of the comet. With the main mission over, scientists decided to fly the probe to intercept another comet. In November 2010, Deep Impact performed a successful flyby of Comet Hartley 2.
NBC News notes that the Deep Impact spacecraft also observed Comet Garradd from afar in 2012 and also snapped some of the first photos of Comet ISON, which is dubbed by some as the “comet of the century.” ISON will make an appearance near Earth later this year.
During its working life, the probe beamed back more than 500,000 photographs and traveled an impressive 4.7 billion miles through deep space. The probe’s principal investigator, Mike A’Hearn, from the University of Maryland, commented, “Deep Impact has been a fantastic, long-lasting spacecraft that has produced far more data than we had planned. It has revolutionized our understanding of comets and their activity.”
Mission control last heard from Deep Impact on August 8, 2013. They repeatedly attempted to reactivate its onboard systems, but were unsuccessful. The exact cause of the probe’s death isn’t certain. However, handlers suspect the probe had an issue with computer time-lagging. It would have caused Deep Impact to lose control of its orientation in space.
Despite the unexpected end to Deep Impact’s operation, scientists are happy at the achievements the probe made during its long career flying through deep space.