Status Report

Search For CONTOUR Spacecraft – Spacewatch – Updated August 21, 2002

By SpaceRef Editor
August 21, 2002
Filed under , ,

The subtracted image below reveals two objects that are believed
to be parts of the CONTOURspacecraft, radio contact with which had
been lost the day beforefollowing a commanded large velocity
impulse maneuver.This subtracted image reveals moving objects by
pairs of images, one dark and one bright. The images used in the
subtraction were taken by Jim Scotti with the Spacewatch1.8-meter
telescope on Kitt Peak on 2002 August 16. There are twoparallel
trails near one of the predicted positions of the CONTOUR

These trails were discovered and measured by Jeff Larsen during
hisre-examination of the data. The curvature of the trails is a
naturalcharacteristic of the drift scanning process at this high
declination.The images are oriented with north at the right and
west up. The positive images (white) are the earlier time. The
fact that there are two trails indicates that the spacecraftmust
have separated into two pieces that are still moving innearly
parallel directions.

Media: Please indicate (c) 2002 The Spacewatch Project, Lunar and
Planetary Laboratory, The University of Arizona in any
reproductions of these images.

Two objects possibly belonging to the CONTOUR spacecraft

According to David Dunham of the CONTOUR Mission Team –

1. The spacecraft was about 460,000 km (286,000 miles) away from
the Earth at the time of observation (a little beyond the
Moon’s average distance.)

2. The two objects were separated by 460 km in the plane of the
sky. This indicates that the objects probably separated at
the end of the solid rocket motor burn, 20 hours earlier,
with a relative velocity of at least 6 meters/second (14

3. The magnitudes of the two objects at the time of
the illustrated observations were 18.2 V and 18.9 V,
respectively. A day later they were expected to be twice as
far away and about two magnitudes fainter, making them more
difficult toobserve.

4. The objects were found in a rich Milky Way field in northern

5. The existence and trajectories of these two components were
subsequently confirmed by other observatories on following

At the request of CONTOUR Mission Control, Spacewatch reviewed the
initial observation images for further fragments of the CONTOUR
spacecraft. The extremely faint trail below was found near the
expected position of the CONTOUR spacecraft if the solid rocket
motor burn completed. This piece is separated from the first two
fragments found by roughly 6000 km.

Possible third piece of the CONTOUR spacecraft

SpaceRef staff editor.