A recycled NASA spacecraft that has already bombed one comet is headed for another one, after a slight detour by Earth that required a tricky engine maneuver to put it on track for both flybys.
The Epoxi spacecraft, which was originally built as the mother ship for NASA's Deep Impact mission mother ship, fired its engines on May 28 for 11.3 seconds to fine-tune its planned June 27 flyby past the Earth and trip to visit the comet Hartley 2 in November.
"While it was a small burn, it was a big step in getting us to Hartley 2," said Tim Larson, Epoxi project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "Humanity's fifth close-up view of a comet is less than five months away."
The maneuver sets the stage for a planned Nov. 4 swing by the comet Hartley 2, though Epoxi will just observe that icy wanderer and not let loose an impactor probe to crash into it like the original Deep Impact mission did to the comet Tempel 1 in 2005.
That earlier Deep Impact mission intentionally crashed a probe into Tempel 1 to determine the comet's composition. [Photos of the comet crash.]
Epoxi's recent engine burn changed the spacecraft's velocity by a mere 0.1 meters per second (less than a quarter mile per hour). But that was all the mission navigators needed to take advantage of Earth's gravity to get a speed boost for Epoxi's trip to Hartley 2.
Epoxi is an extended, unmanned mission of the Deep Impact space probe. Its name is derived from its dual science investigations ? the Deep Impact Extended Investigations (DIXI) and the Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization (EPOCh).
The spacecraft was built for NASA by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., located in Boulder Colo. JPL manages Epoxi for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The University of Maryland is the Principal Investigator institution.
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