|August 15: ground operation team looses contact with Contour
On august 15, at about 225 kilometers above the Indian Ocean, Contour should have fired its STAR-30 solid rocket motor for approximately 50 seconds, getting the 1,922 meters-per-second boost it needs to escape Earth's orbit. Contour should have then embarked on a course around the Sun that was supposed to bring it back to Earth and toward its target comets. But ii didn’t work this way: briefly after ignition time, Contour mission lost its contact with the operations team at APL.
Contour’s STAR 30 solid-propellant rocket motor was programmed to ignite at 4:49 a.m. to take the mission off Earth's orbit. It was expected to regain contact at approximately 5:35 a.m. to confirm the burn, but NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) antennas never acquired a signal again. Actually, where the spacecraft was supposed to be, the Spacewatch telescope at Kitt Peack in Arizona has showed three distinct objects, which could mean that Contour could have broken apart(http://spacewatch.ipl.arizona.edu.contour.html). Mission controllers at APL has listened for signals from the spacecraft periodically and will go on until early December, when CONTOUR will come into a more favorable angle for receiving a signal from Earth, but there is not much hope.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe has announced that Chief Engineer Theron M. Bradley Jr. will lead a team to investigate the apparent loss of the CONTOUR mission space probe. The investigation team will independently examine all aspects of the CONTOUR mission, which has been out of contact with controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Md., since a scheduled engine firing Aug. 15.
In May, Bradley joined the agency as Chief Engineer to provide independent technical review of NASA's programs and projects. He's a U.S. Navy engineer who was instrumental in the initial design of the nuclear propulsion plant for Nimitz class aircraft carriers and the advanced reactor design for Los Angeles class submarines. Bradley also served as a civilian with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of Defense in numerous leadership and management positions.
The team will include a team of internal NASA investigators from space science, as well as other aerospace disciplines, and external experts with extensive experience in accident examinations. The group is expected to report its initial findings to NASA Headquarters in six to eight weeks.