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23 October 1997
For Immediate Release

APL Comet-Studying Mission
Selected for NASA Discovery Program

The Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) mission to study comets -- a joint project between The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Md., and Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. -- has been selected by NASA as one of two new Discovery Program Flights. The California Institute of Technology/Lockheed Martin Genesis mission to study the solar wind was also chosen.

The $154 million CONTOUR mission will fly to within 60 miles of at least three major near-Earth comets during the 2003-2008 time frame, taking images, making spectral maps, and analyzing dust flowing from the bodies to dramatically improve our knowledge of comet nuclei and their diversity. CONTOUR is designed to allow altering the spacecraft's trajectory to maneuver into study range of any suitable "new" comets that appear during 2004-2008, a possibility researchers estimate as 98 percent probable.

APL Space Department Head Tom Krimigis says, "CONTOUR is an exceptionally innovative mission that will increase our knowledge of comets manyfold. Its ability to intercept new comets that have yet to be discovered is indeed unique and gives us the means for the first time to quickly investigate such comets."

Joseph Veverka of Cornell is the Principal Investigator, and Andy Cheng and Scott Murchie of APL are among 16 university, government, and industry co-investigators. APL's Bob Farquhar and Dave Dunham will design the CONTOUR mission, and Ed Reynolds will serve as Mission System Engineer.

Led by Program Manager Mary Chiu, APL will build CONTOUR and two of the spacecraft's four scientific instruments: the CONTOUR Remote Imager/Spectrograph (CRISP) and the CONTOUR Forward Imager (CFI).

After a one-year study, construction of CONTOUR will begin February 2000, with launch scheduled for July 2002.

CONTOUR will fly by Comet Encke in November 2003. Observed more often than any other comet, including Halley, Encke is one of the most evolved comets that are still active. Next on the tour is Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann-3, discovered in 1930. The comet split into at least three pieces in 1995, and when CONTOUR arrives in 2006, it should get a good look at the relatively exposed interiors of the cleaved sections. Comet d'Arrest, which has remained extremely stable since its discovery in 1851, will be visited in 2008.

Researchers say the CONTOUR mission will build on exploratory results from earlier flybys of Comet Halley and will extend the applicability of data obtained by NASA's Stardust and the European Space Agency's Rosetta missions to broaden our understanding of comets.

The Applied Physics Laboratory is a not-for-profit laboratory and independent division of The Johns Hopkins University. APL conducts research and development primarily for national security and for nondefense projects of national and global significance. Located midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in Laurel, Md., APL employs 2,700 permanent staff.


For more information contact

For more information, contact APL Public Information Officer Helen Worth; phone: 240-228-5113 or 410-778-5113.