II-VI makes real impact with NASA
II-VI workers toiled for about five years to craft a specialized prism that would allow NASA to capture high-resolution images of the Tempel 1 comet.
All that work paid off on July 4 when a camera containing the prism had a relatively up-close view as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration crashed the Deep Impact probe into the comet. The camera was about 300 miles away from the collision, but the comet is about 268 million miles away from Earth.
Deep Impact separated when it approached the comet, which is roughly half the size of Manhattan. The impactor hurtled into the comet’s path at about 23,000 mph as the remaining part of the probe — called the flyby — captured pictures of impact.
Colliding into Tempel 1 always was NASA’s plan because Deep Impact was designed to drill into the comet’s core to help scientists determine just what Tempel 1 is made of.
Researchers suspect the comet has been around since the creation of the solar system and contains material that could provide clues to the solar system’s formation.
Colorado-based Ball Aerospace and Technologies tapped laser-optics manufacturer II-VI to develop a prism that would work in Deep Impact’s high-resolution camera.
The amber-colored zinc selenide prism resembles a small pyramid and fits into the palm of a hand.
II-VI Manager of Precision Engineering Alan Hedges said the company developed about eight prisms at the Clinton Township facility before it had the required two to send to Ball Aerospace.
Ball Aerospace then fit the prism into its high-resolution instrument, which consists of a telescope, infrared spectrometer and camera.
Hedges said it took considerable effort to adapt II-VI’s technology for NASA’s needs.
II-VI Chief Financial Officer Craig Creaturo said zinc selenide prisms usually are used for industrial lasers and infrared imaging.
“The basic technology, we use it a lot,” Creaturo said. “But usually we’re not making something that’s going to travel 23,000 mph.”
Creaturo said the project was unique, although it wasn’t the first time II-VI has created products for the aerospace industry. He said the company frequently works to adapt technology for specific solutions.
“That’s what we do best,” he said. Additional Information:
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Tempel 1 meets Deep Impact
Comet 9P, or Tempel 1, was discovered in 1867 by Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel of France. It orbits the sun once every 5.5 years between Mars and Jupiter. Scientists believe it was created when the solar system was formed and suspect its makeup has remained unchanged.
Diameter: 4 miles.
Distance from Earth: 268 million miles.
Speed: 23,000 mph.
Travel time: Deep Impact took 172 days to reach Tempel 1.
Collision: The impact of the 820-pound probe colliding with the comet was compared to a mosquito running into a commercial jet.
Impact size: Scientists haven’t determined the crater size, but believe it was larger than anticipated. They estimated the crater could be as large as a football field.
Source: NASA, II-VI, Ball Aerospace