Launch Plus Three Years: Looking Back, Looking Ahead

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Keeping Up the Pace

Mission principal investigator Alan Stern says he continuously marvels at New Horizons’ growing distance – now more than 1.2 billion miles from the Sun and more than a billion miles from any other spacecraft, save for New Horizons’ expended third-stage rocket, which is on its own course to the Kuiper Belt.

“Everything is working well – flight electronics, all seven scientific instruments, all the navigation sensors, all our thrusters, all our heaters, and the RTG [power source]. We aren't using any of our backup systems,” he says. “Equally good, we have lots of fuel in the tank, more than preflight predicts indicated we would likely have at this point.”

He says more than 2,500 people worked on one aspect of New Horizons or another, from the launch vehicle and spacecraft, to the science instruments and RTG, to the ground systems, to navigation and Deep Space Network planning, to launch approval, budgeting and management.

Since January 19, 2006...
• The New Horizons team has devoured 3,000 pizzas during operations and encounter-planning sessions.

• The Venetia Burney Student Dust Counter has recorded 16,812 hits.

“Although our flight and science team is not much more than 1 percent of that size now, NASA, the scientific community, and a lot of interested people around the world owe a giant thanks to all those who worked to design, build, test, and launch this beautiful bird toward its date with history in 2015,” he says. “Now it's our little team's job to safely shepherd her across another 2,000-plus days and another 1.8 billion miles so we can accomplish what a few of us set out to do, so long ago, in 1989.”

By the end of this year, Weaver adds, an incredibly capable New Horizons spacecraft will be ready for a long hibernation phase and the mission team will be poised to tackle an ambitious Pluto encounter rehearsal during summer 2013. “Even then, there are still a couple of years to wait before our dream of lifting the veil on Pluto is finally realized,” He says. “Talk about delayed gratification! But, fortunately, the journey itself is fun and interesting.”

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