Capping 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 CONTOUR spacecraft, which will
provide the closest and most detailed look ever into the icy heart of a

Slated to launch July 1, 2002, CONTOUR (Comet Nucleus Tour) will encounter
at least two diverse comets as they zip through the inner solar system. From
as close as 100 miles (160 kilometers) away, 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 the mission team can send the
spacecraft to an as-yet undiscovered comet should such a valuable
opportunity arise.

Currently parked in an APL clean room, CONTOUR has had all onboard systems
tested, including all four of its 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 resilient
Kevlar-and-Nextel dust shield designed to protect CONTOUR from speeding
bullet-like particles around the comets.

Environmental testing on the craft begins Jan. 14 on APL’s large vibration
tables. On Jan. 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.

“These rigorous checks will verify that CONTOUR can stand up to the shaking
during launch and the harsh conditions of outer space,” says Edward
Reynolds, CONTOUR mission system engineer at APL.

In May, CONTOUR will leave Goddard for Kennedy Space Center, Florida, in
final preparation for launch aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket.

CONTOUR is the next launch in NASA’s Discovery Program of low-cost,
scientifically focused missions. APL manages the CONTOUR mission for NASA
and will operate the spacecraft. Dr. Joseph Veverka of Cornell University,
Ithaca, New York, is CONTOUR’s principal investigator. For more information,
visit the CONTOUR Web site at

Image Advisory/Note to Editors: Photos to accompany this release are
available on the Web at Members
of the media are invited to see the CONTOUR spacecraft during its final
weeks at APL. Contact Mike Buckley at (443) 778-7536 or (240) 228-7536 for
information about visiting APL’s space facilities.

The Applied Physics Laboratory, a division of The Johns Hopkins University,
meets critical national challenges through the innovative application of
science and technology. For more information, visit