Status Report

CONTOUR Spacecraft Launches from Cape Canaveral

By SpaceRef Editor
July 3, 2002
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NASA’s Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft – set to provide the closest
look yet at the “heart” of a comet – successfully launched today at 2:47
a.m. EDT aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force
Station, Fla.

Designed and built by The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics
Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., the 2,138-pound (970-kilogram) spacecraft
was placed into an elliptical Earth orbit 63 minutes after launch. About 19
minutes later the mission operations team at APL acquired a signal from the
spacecraft through the Deep Space Network antenna station in Goldstone,
Calif., and by 5:45 a.m. EDT Mission Director Dr. Robert W. Farquhar of the
Applied Physics Lab confirmed the craft was operating normally and ready to
carry out its early orbit maneuvers.

“CONTOUR’s launch was a spectacular start to an important project,” says Dr.
Stamatios M. Krimigis, head of the APL Space Department. “CONTOUR is next in
the growing lineup of missions to explore small planetary bodies – such as
comets and asteroids – and we expect it will add much to what little we know
about these ancient samples of the solar system’s original materials.”

CONTOUR will orbit Earth until Aug. 15, when it is scheduled to fire its
main engine and enter a comet-chasing orbit around the sun. The mission’s
flexible four-year plan includes encounters with comets Encke (Nov. 12,
2003) and Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (June 19, 2006), though iý¾žPn add an
encounter with a “new” and scientifically valuable comet from the outer
solar system, should one be discovered in time for CONTOUR to fly past it.
CONTOUR’s four scientific instruments will take detailed pictures and
measure the chemical makeup of each comet’s nucleus – a chunk of ice and
rock – while analyzing the surrounding gas and dust.

The 8-sided solar-powered craft will fly as close as 62 miles (100
kilometers) from each nucleus, protected by a 10-inch-thick, layered dust
shield of heavy Nextel and Kevlar fabric. Scientists expect the data to
reveal the differences between comet nuclei and answer questions about the
role comets had in shaping the Earth and other planets.

“We’re looking forward to a fantastic mission,” says APL’s Edward L.
Reynolds, who at launch assumed the role of CONTOUR project manager from
Mary C. Chiu, who is retiring from the Applied Physics Laboratory. “From
mission design and operations at APL, to the navigation group at NASA’s Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, to the science effort headed by Cornell University,
this team includes the talent and expertise needed to capture and deliver
the best data yet on a comet’s nucleus.”

The $159 million CONTOUR is the sixth mission in NASA’s Discovery Program of
lower cost, scientifically focused exploration projects. APL manages the
mission, built the spacecraft and its two cameras, and will operate CONTOUR
during flight. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., provided
CONTOUR’s neutral gas/ion mass spectrometer and von Hoerner & Sulger, GmbH,
Schwetzingen, Germany, built the dust analyzer. NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will provide navigation and Deep Space Network
(DSN) support. Dr. Joseph Veverka, CONTOUR’s principal investigator from
Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., leads a science team of co-investigators
from universities, industry and government agencies in the U.S. and Europe.

For more information about the CONTOUR mission or to view images of the
spacecraft, visit

SpaceRef staff editor.