NASA's first mission to Pluto has sailed past another critical milestone, as the New Horizons team successfully completed its second major system-level evaluation.
New Horizons held its Preliminary Design Review Oct. 22-24 at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., which manages the mission for NASA. A panel of spacecraft and system engineering experts from APL, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Southwest Research Institute examined New Horizons' mission plans and spacecraft design - concluding each are reaching their anticipated level of maturity and that the project is ready to proceed.
"New Horizons has continued to make substantial progress since its first requirements review five months ago," says Eric Hoffman, the APL Space Department's chief engineer, who chaired the 10-member review panel. "New Horizons has validated its preliminary design and the team can move ahead with more detailed design activities."
The New Horizons spacecraft team plans to start construction next year, after additional reviews in the spring. Long lead-time parts are already being ordered. The science instruments underwent design reviews in August and remain on track for completion by summer 2004.
"We are on schedule and well within budget," says New Horizons Project Manager Thomas Coughlin, of APL. "We are exactly where we intended to be. This is a great team and we're ready to get on with this mission."
New Horizons is working toward a January 2006 launch; it also has backup launch opportunities in February 2006 and February 2007. Depending on the launch vehicle NASA selects - the agency is expected to choose either a Delta IV or an Atlas V by early next year - New Horizons could arrive at Pluto and its moon, Charon, as early as 2015. If launched in January 2006, as planned, it will swing past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in 2007. After exploring Pluto-Charon, the spacecraft will encounter up to three other rocky, icy objects in the Kuiper Belt.
New Horizons is the first mission to Pluto-Charon and the Kuiper Belt of rocky, icy objects beyond. Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern, director of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Space Studies Department, Boulder, Colo., leads a mission team that includes major partners at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).; Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.; Ball Aerospace Corp., Boulder; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.; and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. APL manages the mission for NASA and will design, build and operate the New Horizons spacecraft. SwRI is responsible for scientific instrument development, science team management and the mission's scientific investigations.