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09-Jul-02 | Delta flight 292 – CONTOUR

Delta flight 292 has successfully launched CONTOUR, NASA’s Comet Nucleus Tour probe. Even as thunderstorms threatened to delay the launch, countdown preparations proceeded on schedule, and the clouds and rain dissipated just in time for the launch weather officer to give a Go for launch during the final T-minus 4 minute hold.

Liftoff of the three-stage Delta 7425 occurred at the opening of its launch window, at 2:47:41.366 a.m. EDT, 3 July 2002. Spaceflight Now’s Justin Ray stayed up into the wee hours of the morning and braved the rainy weather at the press site to proffer yet another quality mission status report. (As this reporter was fast asleep long before the terminal count, readers interested in further details of the launch are advised to read Justin’s report.)

Sixty-four minutes after liftoff, CONTOUR separated from the Delta third stage to enter a highly-elliptical orbit. It will remain in this orbit until 15 August, when an on-board Thiokol Star-30 solid motor will fire near perigee to place the craft in a heliocentric, Earth-return orbit.

Over the next few years, CONTOUR will use several Earth gravitational assists to encounter comet Encke in 2003 and comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 in 2006. During these encounters it will use its Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer and its Comet Impact Dust Analyzer to determine the chemical composition of the comets. CONTOUR is the sixth mission in NASA’s Discovery Program* of small, specialized solar system probes.

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