Launch Plus Three Years: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

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Asteroids and Jupiter

Helen Hart joined the mission operations team at APL in spring 2005, just as the team began launch simulations, planning for spacecraft and instrument checkouts, contingency simulations and launch-readiness reviews. Soon after liftoff they started checking out the spacecraft’s subsystems and instruments.

Hart revels in the way the team “scrambled” to meet an early flight opportunity: passing 100,000 kilometers from asteroid 2002 JF56, later christened APL. “With that encounter came a chance to check out the special moving target guidance control that we wouldn't have a decent chance to use again until Pluto, but only if we scrambled,” she says. On June 13, 2006, the newly commissioned Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera took a clear image of the small asteroid, proving that the control technique worked.

That same month, the New Horizons science team presented its ambitious plans for the 2007 Jupiter flyby and gravity assist. “We plunged into completing instrument checkout and planning for the Jupiter encounter,” Hart recalls. New Horizons made its closest approach to Jupiter on February 28, 2007 – a mere 13 months and two weeks after launch – not only getting a gravity assist that boosted its speed toward Pluto, but also stealing new looks at the solar system’s largest planet and its four biggest moons. [Read about the Jupiter encounter.]
Since January 19, 2006...
• The operations team has carried out 43 beacon contacts, checking in on the signal a hibernating New Horizons sends back to indicate its health.

• The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) has snapped 4,631 pictures.

Based on that success, mission leaders decided to start fully planning for the 2015 Pluto encounter.

“Most of us were expecting a bit of a respite after the Jupiter encounter, when we entered a long hibernation phase,” says New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of APL. “But then we realized that it would be better to continue working on the planning for the Pluto encounter while the lessons learned from Jupiter are still fresh in our minds. So we've been keeping our noses to the grindstone for an extra two years to make sure we have the best possible flyby encounter at Pluto.”

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