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Kind: Flyby (2P/Encke · 73P/Schwassmann–Wachmann · 6P/d'Arrest)

State: Failure

Place: Comet

Operator: NASA · Applied Physics Laboratory



Duration: 1 month, 12 days

Mission Ending

Last Contact: August 15, 2002 (2002-08-15) (18 years, 2 months and 24 days ago)


Rocket: Delta II

Kind: NASA · Applied Physics Laboratory

Mass: 328 kg (723 lb)

Launch Site: Cape Canaveral SLC-17


"Requesting permission for flyby." Maverick - Top Gun


"You’re going very fast when you’re on orbit, going around the world once every hour and a half." - Robert Crippen


"The journey, not the arrival, matters; the voyage, not the landing." - Paul Theroux

The COmet Nucleus TOUR (CONTOUR) was a NASA Discovery-class space probe that failed shortly after its July 2002 launch. It had as its primary objective close flybys of two comet nuclei with the possibility of a flyby of a third known comet or an as-yet-undiscovered comet. The two comets scheduled to be visited were Encke and Schwassmann-Wachmann-3, and the third target was d'Arrest. It was hoped that a new comet would have been discovered in the inner Solar System between 2006 and 2008, in which case the spacecraft trajectory would have been changed if possible to rendezvous with the new comet. Scientific objectives included imaging the nuclei at resolutions of up to 4 meters (13 ft), performing spectral mapping of the nuclei at resolutions of up to 100 meters (330 ft), and obtaining detailed compositional data on gas and dust in the near-nucleus environment, with the goal of improving knowledge of the characteristics of comet nuclei. After the solid rocket motor intended to inject the spacecraft into solar orbit was ignited on August 15, 2002, contact with the probe could not be re-established. Ground-based telescopes later found three objects along the course of the satellite, leading to the speculation that it had disintegrated. Attempts to contact the probe were ended on December 20, 2002. The probe thus accomplished none of its primary scientific objectives, but did prove some spaceflight technologies, such as the APL-developed non-coherent spacecraft navigation technique, which was later used on the New Horizons spacecraft.