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Deep Impact.jpg
Illustration of the Deep Impact space probe used on EPOXI mission.
Organisation NASA
Major contractors Ball Aerospace & Technologies
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Mission type Flyby
Flyby of 103P/Hartley
Launch date 2005-01-12 18:47:08 UTC [1]
Carrier rocket Delta II-7925
Launch site Space Launch Complex 17-B
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Mission duration elapsed: 5 years and 3 days
COSPAR ID 2005-001A
Home page EPOXI website
Mass 650 kg (1,430 lbs)
Power 620.0 W

EPOXI is a NASA unmanned space mission led by the University of Maryland using the existing Deep Impact vehicle to begin a new series of observations. It will first investigate extrasolar planets and, in 2010, it may visit and study comet 103P/Hartley. The new mission was originally announced on 3 July 2007 as including flyby of comet 85P/Boethin, but Boethin was too small and faint for its orbit to be calculated accurately, so the mission was subsequently retargeted for a Hartley 2 fly-by.[2] NASA and the University of Maryland confirmed funding for the Hartley 2 flyby in news releases issued on December 13, 2007.[3][4]

EPOXI combines two targets: the Deep Impact Extended Investigation (DIXI), and the Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization (EPOCh). Deep Impact will conduct both missions, the Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization during the cruise phase to Hartley 2, and the Deep Impact Extended Investigation at fly-by. The spacecraft was also used as a test platform for a delay-tolerant networking transmission whilst at a distance of 20 million miles from Earth.[5]

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, California., manages EPOXI for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.



"It's exciting that we can send the Deep Impact spacecraft on a new mission that combines two totally independent science investigations, both of which can help us better understand how solar systems form and evolve," said Deep Impact leader and University of Maryland astronomer Michael A'Hearn who is principal investigator (PI) for both the overall EPOXI mission and its DIXI component.[4]

On July 21, 2005, Deep Impact executed a trajectory correction maneuver that placed the spacecraft on course to fly past Earth on December 31, 2007. The maneuver allows the spacecraft to use Earth's gravity to begin a new mission in a path towards another comet. The extended mission is called EPOXI (Extrasolar Planet Observation and Deep Impact Extended Investigation) and in January 2008 will have Deep Impact begin studying the stars around several known extrasolar planets to attempt to find other nearby extrasolar planets. The larger of the spacecraft's two telescopes will attempt to find the planets using the transit method.[6]

The initial plan was for a December 5, 2008 flyby of Comet Boethin, with the spacecraft coming within 435 miles (700 kilometers). Instead of using another impactor to collide with the comet (which the spacecraft does not have), the spacecraft will observe the comet to compare it to various characteristics found on 9P/Tempel. A'Hearn, the Deep Impact team leader reflected on the upcoming project at that time: "We propose to direct the spacecraft for a flyby of Comet Boethin to investigate whether the results found at Comet Tempel 1 are unique or are also found on other comets."[7] He continued on to reveal that the mission would provide about half of the information as the collision of Tempel 1 but at a fraction of the cost.[7] (EPOXI’s low mission cost of $40 million is achieved by reusing the existing Deep Impact spacecraft.) Deep Impact will use its spectrometer to study the comet's surface composition and its telescopes for viewing the surface features.[6]

However, as the Earth gravity assist approached, astronomers were unable to locate Comet Boethin, which is too faint to be observed. Consequently, its orbit could not be calculated with sufficient precision to permit a flyby. Instead, the team will target Deep Impact toward comet 103P/Hartley. However, this will require an extra two years of travel for Deep Impact. NASA retargeted the spacecraft toward Hartley 2 and has approved the additional funding required.[8]

Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory began directing EPOXI towards Hartley 2 on November 1, 2007. They commanded the spacecraft to perform a three-minute rocket burn that changed the spacecraft's velocity. EPOXI’s new trajectory sets the stage for three Earth flybys, the first on December 31, 2007. This places the spacecraft into an orbital "holding pattern" until it’s time for the optimal encounter of comet Hartley 2 in 2010.

In June 2008, EPOXI's spectrometer scanned the Moon on its way to Hartley, and discovered traces of "water or hydroxyl", confirming a Moon Mineralogy Mapper observation — a discovery announced in late September, 2009.[9]

The flyby of comet Hartley 2 is targeted for October 11, 2010.



EPOXI imaged the Moon transiting the Earth on 28-29 May 2008.

Before the 2008 flyby to re-orient for the comet Hartley 2 encounter, the spacecraft used the larger of its two telescopes to observe transits of previously discovered extrasolar planetary systems from January to August 2008.[10] It also looked at Earth as though it were an extrasolar planet to provide data that could characterize Earth-type planets for future missions, and it imaged the Earth over 24 hours to capture the Moon passing in front on 2008-05-29.[10] EPOCh's goals were to study the physical properties of giant planets and search for rings, moons and planets[11] as small as three Earth masses.[12]

Planetary systems observed
Star Constellation Distance (ly) Planet
XO-2 Lynx 486 b
Gliese 436 Leo 33.48 b
BD+36°2593 Boötes 1010 HAT-P-4b
GSC 03089-00929 Hercules 1300 TrES-3
WASP-3 Lyra 727 b
GSC 03549-02811 Draco 718 TrES-2
HAT-P-7 Cygnus 1044 b

"The search for exosolar planetary systems is one of the most intriguing explorations of our time," said Drake Deming, Epoxi deputy principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "With Epoxi we have the potential to discover new worlds and even analyze the light they emit to perhaps discover what atmospheres they possess."


The mission's closest approach to the small half-mile-wide comet will be about nearly a thousand kilometers (620 miles). The spacecraft will employ the same suite of two science instruments the Deep Impact spacecraft used during its prime mission to guide an impactor into comet Tempel 1 in July 2005.

If Epoxi’s observations of Hartley 2 show it is similar to one of the other comets that have been observed, this new class of comets will be defined for the first time. If the comet displays different characteristics, it would deepen the mystery of cometary diversity.

"When comet Boethin could not be located, we went to our backup, which is every bit as interesting but about two years farther down the road," said Tom Duxbury, Epoxi project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"Hartley 2 is scientifically just as interesting as comet Boethin because both have relatively small, active nuclei," said Michael A'Hearn, principal investigator for Epoxi at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Current status

The craft is now in a solar orbit near to that of the Earth. It used Earth for a gentle gravity assist maneuver in Dec 2008, and will again in Dec 2009. For a diagram of the EPOXI solar orbits see here.


  1. ^ Justin Ray (January 9, 2005). "Delta Launch Report:". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 2010-01-07.  
  2. ^ NASA (July 3, 2007). "NASA Gives Two Successful Spacecraft New Assignments". Press release. Retrieved 7 August 2009.  
  3. ^ NASA (Dec. 13, 2007). "NASA Sends Spacecraft on Mission to Comet Hartley 2". Press release. Retrieved 7 August 2009.  
  4. ^ a b University of Maryland (December 13, 2007). "Deep Impact Extended Mission Heads for Comet Hartley 2". Press release. Retrieved 7 August 2009.  
  5. ^ "First test for interplanetary net". BBC News. 21 November 2008. Retrieved 7 August 2009.  
  6. ^ a b "Science Daily". Deep Impact Mission: Aiming For Close-ups Of Extrasolar Planets. Retrieved June 3, 2007.  
  7. ^ a b "Skymania News". Deep Impact will fly to new comet. Retrieved June 12, 2007.  
  8. ^ EPOXI Mission Status, NASA/University of Maryland, December 2, 2007.
  9. ^ Science, A Whiff of Water Found on the Moon
  10. ^ a b "EPOXI Mission Status Reports". Retrieved 2009-03-07.  
  11. ^ "Sarah Ballard: Preliminary Results from the NASA EPOXI Mission" (Mov). Retrieved 2009-03-07.   (at 2 minutes 20 seconds in video)
  12. ^ "EPOXI Mission Science". Retrieved 2009-03-07.  

External links


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