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CONTOUR (Discovery 6)


CONTOUR (Comet Nucleus Tour) was a probe to flyby at least two comets (Comet 2P/Encke encounter: 12 November 2003 and Comet 73P/Schwassmann-Wachmann-3 encounter: 18 June 2006) with a number of earth swing-bys (August 2003, August 2004, Februar 2005, Februar 2006). It featured four instruments:

  • CRISP (CONTOUR Remote Imager Spectrograph),
  • CFI (CONTOUR Forward Imager),
  • CIDA (CONTOUR Dust Analyzer) and
  • NGIMS (Neutral Gas Ion Mass Spectrometer).

CONTOUR was launched by a Delta-7425 into a highly eccentric earth phasing orbit, where after 45 days the integrated Star-30BP kick motor was fired to propell the probe into its interplanetary trajectory. After the primary mission at Encke and Schwassmann-Wachmann-3, the probe could have been directed to an yet undiscovered comet.

On August 16. 2002 the kick motor was fired, but contact with the probe was lost. Images by Spacewatch showed three objects near the location of CONTOUR and a DSP early warning satellite observed a bright flare three seconds before the end of the burn, so one can assume, that the probe was destroyed due to a kick motor malfunction.

Currently APL studies the option of building a repeat CONTOUR 2 probe, which might be launched by a larger launch vehicle, thus eliminating the need to use a internal kick motor.

Nation: USA
Type / Application: Multiple comet flybys
Operator: NASA
Contractors: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL)
Configuration: Octagonal body, dust shields
Propulsion: Star-30BP kick motor
Power: Body mounted solar-arrays, batteries
Mass: 1005 kg
Orbit: Initially 90 km × 106689 km, 30.5, later Heliocentric
Satellite COSPAR Date LS Launch Vehicle Remarks
CONTOUR (Discovery 6) 2002-034A 03.07.2002 CC SLC-17A Delta-7425 [Star-30BP]


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