NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
On Course: Projected path of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft toward 2014 MU69, which orbits in the Kuiper Belt about 1 billion miles beyond Pluto. Planets are shown in their positions on Jan. 1, 2019, when New Horizons is projected to reach the small Kuiper Belt object. NASA must approve an extended mission for New Horizons to study MU69.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has carried out the second in a series of four maneuvers propelling it toward an encounter with the ancient Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, a billion miles farther from the sun than Pluto.
The targeting maneuver, performed with the spacecraft’s hydrazine-fueled thrusters, started at approximately 1:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday, Oct. 25, and lasted about 25 minutes – the largest propulsive maneuver ever conducted by New Horizons. Spacecraft operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, began receiving data through NASA’s Deep Space Network at approximately 8:25 p.m. EDT on Sunday that indicated a successful maneuver.
All told, the four maneuvers are designed to alter New Horizons’ path to send it toward a close encounter with MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019. The flyby would be part of an extended mission that NASA still must approve; the New Horizons team will submit a formal proposal to NASA for that mission in early 2016. The science team hopes to bring the spacecraft closer to MU69 than it came to Pluto on July 14, which was 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers)
The two remaining KBO targeting maneuvers are scheduled for Oct. 28 and Nov. 4.
New Horizons, speeding through deep space at more than 32,000 miles per hour, is approximately 76 million miles (122 million kilometers) beyond Pluto and 3.16 billion miles (5.09 billion kilometers) from Earth. All systems are healthy and the spacecraft continues to transmit data stored on its digital recorders from its flight through the Pluto system in July.
New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute leads the science mission, payload operations, and encounter science planning.
Read about the selection of 2014 MU69 as New Horizons’ post-Pluto target.