NASA’s New Horizons probe wakes up for New Year’s Day flyby – Spaceflight Now

NASA’s New Horizons probe wakes up for New Year’s Day flyby – Spaceflight Now

Artist’s idea of the New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Speeding by way of the outer reaches of the photo voltaic system almost three.eight billion miles from Earth, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has woke up from a five-and-a-half month slumber, prepared for a second act after its 2015 flyby of Pluto with a New Year’s Day encounter with a primordial world set to turn into probably the most distant object ever explored.

The plutonium-powered probe woke up with an on-board timer late Monday, however the radio sign confirming New Horizons emerged from hibernation took almost six hours to achieve Earth, finishing the journey at light-speed at 2:12 a.m. EDT (0612 GMT) Tuesday, officers stated.

Alice Bowman, the New Horizons mission operations supervisor on the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, reported the long-lived spacecraft was working usually, and all its techniques got here again on-line as anticipated, based on an announcement.

The mission’s July 14, 2015, flyby of Pluto produced gorgeous imagery, discovering huge mountain ranges and revealing proof of cryovolcanoes, glaciers, methane snow, and different shocking geologic exercise.

After bending its trajectory following the go to to Pluto, New Horizons is now in an prolonged mission with a brand new vacation spot in its sights. Managers ordered the 165-day hibernation, which started Dec. 21, to avoid wasting gas and provides scientists time to script New Horizons’s strategy to its subsequent goal.

Over the following two months, floor controllers will uplink instructions to New Horizons to organize the craft for a Jan. 1 encounter with an unexplored object within the Kuiper Belt, a hoop of miniature worlds orbiting the solar past Neptune.

The object, formally named 2014 MU69 and nicknamed Ultima Thule, was found by astronomers utilizing the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014. Scientists estimate the article is concerning the dimension of a big metropolis, and it seems reddish, however even probably the most highly effective telescopes at Earth are usually not able to resolving any particulars concerning the New Horizons mission’s subsequent goal.

Controllers will retrieve science information from earlier observations saved within the probe’s on-board reminiscence, uplink reminiscence updates,  and full a collection of spacecraft and science instrument checkouts earlier than New Horizons begins making long-distance navigation measurements utilizing an on-board digicam in August.

“Our team is already deep into planning and simulations of our upcoming flyby of Ultima Thule and excited that New Horizons is now back in an active state to ready the bird for flyby operations, which will begin in late August,” stated Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Researchers imagine Ultima Thule has remained in its primordial state because the photo voltaic system’s early historical past four.5 billion years in the past. Comets that come from the far outer photo voltaic system originated in the identical frozen, faint atmosphere, however repeated passes close to the solar have erased their historic traits.

Scientists hope the New Horizons spacecraft’s discoveries at Ultima Thule will assist their understanding of how the photo voltaic system fashioned and developed over billions of years.

Uncertainties about Ultima Thule’s actual location will make navigation photographs taken by New Horizons’s personal digicam vital for fine-tuning the spacecraft’s trajectory later this 12 months. A collection of course-correction alternatives are deliberate from October by way of December to steer New Horizons towards its goal.

Astronomers observing Ultima Thule from the bottom utilizing the article’s occultation of stars have concluded the mini-world doubtless has an elongated form, and it could encompass two or three separate parts, together with a small moonlet orbiting close by.

Ultima Thule’s diminutive dimension, coupled with New Horizons’s quick closing pace, will hold the probe’s main science digicam from resolving its form, and the variety of objects there, till the ultimate weeks and days earlier than the encounter.

Mission planners have developed two flyby trajectories, with scientists preferring to ship New Horizons as shut as 2,175 miles (three,500 kilometers) from Ultima Thule, assuming scans of the flight path in the course of the spacecraft’s strategy flip up no hazards, similar to moons or a particles ring. Managers may determine as late as mid-December to re-target an goal level greater than 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) away in the event that they detect hazard, sacrificing some scientific information and high-resolution imagery for security.

For comparability, New Horizons zipped by Pluto at a variety of round 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers). Thanks to the nearer flyby distance, scientists count on to see extra element in New Horizons’s imagery of Ultima Thule than they noticed at Pluto.

As of Tuesday, New Horizons was roughly 162 million miles (262 million kilometers) from Ultima Thule — positioned a billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) past Pluto — and touring 760,200 miles (greater than 1.2 million kilometers) nearer every day.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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