SPACECRAFT NEARS COMPLETION
nearly two years of detailed development and assembly, engineers
at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
(APL) in Laurel, Maryland, are putting the last touches on
the Comet Nucleus Tour
(CONTOUR) spacecraft, which will provide the closest and most
detailed look ever into a comet.
to launch July 1, 2002, CONTOUR will encounter at least two
diverse comets as they zip through the inner solar system.
From as close as 100 miles (160 kilometers), the spacecraft
will snap high-resolution photos of the comet nucleus, map
the types of rock and ice on the nucleus, and analyze the
composition of the surrounding gas and dust. CONTOUR's targets
include comet Encke in November 2003 and Schwassmann-Wachmann
3 in June 2006, though if an opportunity arises, the mission
team can send the spacecraft to an as-yet undiscovered comet.
in an APL clean room, CONTOUR has had all its onboard systems
tested, including four scientific instruments, two cameras,
a dust analyzer and a mass spectrometer. Over the next week,
APL technicians will attach solar panels and the final layers
of the dust shield which is designed to protect CONTOUR from
bullet-like particles around the comets.
testing on the craft begins January 14 on APL's large vibration
tables. On January 28, CONTOUR will ship to NASA's Goddard
Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for nearly three
months of additional tests in Goddard's expansive facilities.
In May, CONTOUR will leave Goddard for Kennedy Space Center,
Florida, in final preparation for launch aboard a Boeing Delta
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