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Getting Closer
December 27, 2005

This past week was a busy one. Mission operations practices continued, as did engineering paperwork closeouts. Other major activities included:

  • The final tasks associated with mating the spacecraft and third stage to our Atlas launch vehicle.
  • A suite of integrated electrical testing of the spacecraft-third stage-Atlas stack.
  • A stress test of the New Horizons spacecraft Power Distribution Unit (PDU) in response to an anomaly investigation surrounding a pair of commands the PDU dropped before executing on Nov. 19-20.
  • A dry run of radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG)-spacecraft mating activities.
  • Draining and preparations to begin drying our Atlas fuel tank in preparation for boroscope inspections set for Jan. 3-4.
  • The final NASA Headquarters prelaunch mission review.
  • A mission press conference held at NASA Headquarters; this was accompanied by the release of the mission press kit, which is available at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu.

  • The New Horizons launch vehicle: fully assembled at Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 41.
    (Click on the image for a larger version.)

    A final touch is applied to our nose fairing.
    (Click on the image for a larger version.)

    In other news of the week, New Horizons science team collaborator Marc Buie and four coworkers submitted a research paper to The Astronomical Journal describing some new results about Pluto's just-discovered small satellites, which have been temporarily dubbed "P1" and "P2." You can find this paper posted on the Web at: http://xxx.lanl.gov/abs/astro-ph/0512491.

    In brief, Buie et al. faintly detected P1 and P2 in almost two dozen Hubble Space Telescope images of Pluto made in 2002. They then used that data to refine the orbits of the new satellites. They also managed to eke out colors for the two moons: P1 is neutrally colored, but P2 is red. Why are they different? No one knows, but variety is the spice of life, and these new results indicate New Horizons is going to see a lot of that when it visits the Pluto system.

    The holidays upon us now are providing a well-earned break for most of the New Horizons team. With that break, also comes a time of reflection. We are very proud of the spacecraft and launcher we built and tested in 2005, and we are even prouder to think that we're so close to flying the capstone mission in the initial reconnaissance of the planets.

    I'll post my next update right after the start of the new year. See you then.

    -- Alan Stern


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