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Artistic view of NASA - space probe CONTOUR, which started in June 2002 and shortly thereafter in the Earth orbit crashed.
CONTOUR preparing for takeoff
Structure of the CONTOUR space probe

CONTOUR ( Co met N ucleus Tour ) was the name of a US space probe that was launched in 2002. It crashed shortly after takeoff in Earth orbit and broke into several parts. The cause of the accident could not be properly clarified.


The order for the one-tonne CONTOUR probe was to fly close to Comet Encke (planned for 2003), Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (planned for 2006) and 6P / d'Arrest (planned for 2008). What was particularly interesting about the CONTOUR mission concept was its flexibility: if an unknown comet, such as Hale-Bopp 1997, appeared within range of the probe during its mission , it would have been possible to align CONTOUR with it. After its launch, the probe would have used the earth's gravity field several times in order to obtain enough "momentum" for its flight to the comet in swing-by maneuvers.

The mission was CONTOUR within the Discovery Program of NASA planned and carried out. Therefore, the concept also followed the principle of faster, cheaper, better .

CONTOUR was the first total loss of a spacecraft in the 21st century.


CONTOUR launched on July 3, 2002 with a Delta II 7425 rocket and was placed in a highly elliptical orbit . When the space probe ignited its own Star-30BP engine in perigee to leave Earth orbit, the probe broke into three parts on August 15, 2002. NASA's investigation revealed that the probable cause was overheating of the probe from the exhaust gases from the solid fuel propulsion system mounted inside the spacecraft. An explosion of the Star-30BP engine or a collision with a meteorite or space debris were also considered as possible causes .

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Commons : CONTOUR  - collection of images, videos and audio files