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CONTOUR Mission to Comets

Mission Type: Flyby
Launch Vehicle: Delta II 7425
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Fla., USA
NASA Center: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Spacecraft Mass: 328 kg
Spacecraft Instruments:
1) CONTOUR Forward Imager (CFI), a wide-angle imager
2) CONTOUR Remote Imager and Spectrograph (CRISP), a tracking high-resolution imager and spectral mapper)
3) a mapping spectrometer (Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS))
4) dust analyzer (Comet Dust Analyzer (CIDA))
-CONTOUR Mishap Investigation Board Report (May 2003)
-NSSDC Master Catalog,

The Comet Nucleus Tour, or CONTOUR, mission launched from Cape Canaveral on 3 July 2002. CONTOUR's objective was to study two very different comets, Encke and Schwassmann-Wachmann-3, as they made their periodic visits to the inner solar system.

At each comet flyby, the spacecraft was to get as close as 60 miles to the comet nucleus to capture high resolution pictures, perform detailed compositional analyses of gas and dust, and determine the comet's precise orbit. This information would have dramatically improved our knowledge of comet nuclei and their diversity.

Unfortunately, six weeks after launch, on 15 August, contact with the spacecraft was lost after a planned maneuver that was intended to propel it out of Earth orbit and into its comet-chasing solar orbit. Limited ground-based evidence at the time suggested the spacecraft split into several pieces.

Attempts to contact CONTOUR were made through 20 Dec. 2002, when NASA and The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory concluded the spacecraft was lost.

NASA convened a CONTOUR Mishap Investigation Board. The purpose of the Board was to examine the processes, data and actions surrounding the events of 15 August; to search for proximate and root causes; and develop recommendations that may be applicable to future missions.

After an extensive investigation, the board identified four possible causes for the failure but concluded the probable proximate cause was structural failure of the spacecraft due to plume heating during the embedded solid-rocket motor burn.

Key Dates
3 Jul 2002:  Launch (06:47 UT)
Status: Unsuccessful
Fast Facts
CONTOUR Facts CONTOUR stands for Comet Nucleus Tour.

Mission controllers were able to track pieces of CONTOUR (right) after the spacecraft broke up.

CONTOUR was to study comets Encke and Schwassmann-Wachmann 3.

CONTOUR's breakup was confirmed in images such as the one on the right.

CONTOUR was intended to make close studies of two comets with the possibility of a visiting a third comet.

One of the targeted comets -- Encke -- has been observed at more apparitions--57--than any other comet including Halley.

This mission was part of NASA's Discovery program of lower-cost, highly focused planetary science investigations.
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Last Updated: 18 Jun 2015