Images to accompany this release are posted on the APL Web

The spacecraft set to provide the closest look ever at a comet nucleus was
shipped today from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
in Laurel, Maryland – where it was designed and built – to NASA’s Goddard
Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for its next round of prelaunch

Scheduled to launch July 1 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida,
the Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) spacecraft spent the past 10 days in an APL
vibration test lab, where engineers checked the structural integrity of the
eight-sided, 6-by-6 foot craft aboard a large shake table.

“The vibration tests at APL went very well,” says CONTOUR Project Manager
Mary C. Chiu of the Applied Physics Lab. “The spacecraft is in great shape
and we’re ready to move on to the next stage.”

At Goddard the spacecraft will undergo spin tests; acoustic tests, designed
to simulate the noise-induced vibrations of launch; and thermal vacuum
tests, which replicate the harsh conditions of deep space. In late April,
CONTOUR will be transported to Kennedy Space Center/Cape Canaveral and
prepared for launch aboard a three-stage, Boeing Delta II launch vehicle.

“By the time CONTOUR launches it will have been thoroughly tested,” says
Michael J. Colby, CONTOUR lead integration and test engineer at APL. “You
have to be extremely confident that the spacecraft will be OK when it’s
mounted on that Delta.”

After launch, the solar-powered CONTOUR will visit at least two comets as
they travel through the inner solar system. From as close as 60 miles (100
kilometers), the spacecraft will take the most detailed pictures ever of a
comet’s 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 spacecraft can also be sent toward an as-yet-undiscovered comet. The
data will provide clues into the similarities and differences between

CONTOUR is the next launch in NASA’s Discovery
Program of low-cost, scientifically focused missions. The Applied Physics
Laboratory manages the mission for NASA and will operate the spacecraft. Dr.
Joseph I. Veverka of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, is CONTOUR’s
principal investigator and heads a science team of experts from institutions
around the globe. APL, Goddard Space Flight Center and von Hoerner & Sulger,
Schwetzingen, Germany, built CONTOUR’s scientific instruments; NASA’s Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, will provide navigation

For more information on CONTOUR, visit
For more information on NASA’s Discovery Program, visit

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