Search For CONTOUR Spacecraft - Spacewatch - Updated August 21, 2002

Status Report From: Spacewatch
Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2002

The subtracted image below reveals two objects that are believed to be parts of the CONTOURspacecraft, radio contact with which had been lost the day beforefollowing a commanded large velocity impulse maneuver.This subtracted image reveals moving objects by pairs of images, one dark and one bright. The images used in the subtraction were taken by Jim Scotti with the Spacewatch1.8-meter telescope on Kitt Peak on 2002 August 16. There are twoparallel trails near one of the predicted positions of the CONTOUR spacecraft.

These trails were discovered and measured by Jeff Larsen during hisre-examination of the data. The curvature of the trails is a naturalcharacteristic of the drift scanning process at this high declination.The images are oriented with north at the right and west up. The positive images (white) are the earlier time. The fact that there are two trails indicates that the spacecraftmust have separated into two pieces that are still moving innearly parallel directions.

Media: Please indicate (c) 2002 The Spacewatch Project, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, The University of Arizona in any reproductions of these images.

Two objects possibly belonging to the CONTOUR spacecraft

According to David Dunham of the CONTOUR Mission Team -

1. The spacecraft was about 460,000 km (286,000 miles) away from the Earth at the time of observation (a little beyond the Moon's average distance.)

2. The two objects were separated by 460 km in the plane of the sky. This indicates that the objects probably separated at the end of the solid rocket motor burn, 20 hours earlier, with a relative velocity of at least 6 meters/second (14 mph).

3. The magnitudes of the two objects at the time of the illustrated observations were 18.2 V and 18.9 V, respectively. A day later they were expected to be twice as far away and about two magnitudes fainter, making them more difficult toobserve.

4. The objects were found in a rich Milky Way field in northern Vulpecula.

5. The existence and trajectories of these two components were subsequently confirmed by other observatories on following nights.

At the request of CONTOUR Mission Control, Spacewatch reviewed the initial observation images for further fragments of the CONTOUR spacecraft. The extremely faint trail below was found near the expected position of the CONTOUR spacecraft if the solid rocket motor burn completed. This piece is separated from the first two fragments found by roughly 6000 km.

Possible third piece of the CONTOUR spacecraft

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