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ablethevoice 12-20-2005 11:03 PM

The Ongoing Saga of the New Horizons Pluto Probe

Pluto-Bound Probe Ready For Long Journey

By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer
posted: 19 December 2005
04:58 pm ET

Billed as the first mission to the last planet, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is in the final stages of being readied for departure to Pluto.

The spacecraft and its booster, an Atlas V, are now mated. Yet to be attached is the probe’s nuclear power source, followed by hardware electrical connection checks.

The compact and nuclear-powered New Horizons probe is outfitted with seven scientific instruments, built to take an unprecedented up-close look at Pluto and its moon Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto’s complex atmosphere.

Given a liftoff during its first launch window, the spacecraft will arrive at Pluto in the summer of 2015.

After the Pluto/Charon flyby, the New Horizons probe—in extended mission mode—is to shoot by still-to-be picked Kuiper Belt objects, ancient, icy and rocky mini-worlds that are leftovers from the formation of the solar system.

The cost of the mission, including the launch vehicle and operations through the Pluto-Charon encounter, will be roughly $650 million.

Booster inspection

Late last week it was announced that New Horizons was rescheduled for liftoff no earlier than January 17, 2006. That six day slip was called to support additional inspection of the booster for the Pluto-bound spacecraft, a Lockheed Martin Atlas launch vehicle. The booster-for-hire company experienced problems in September on an updated Atlas propellant tank similar to the one being flown on the New Horizons mission.

The spacecraft has a 35-day launch window. Last Saturday, New Horizons was moved to Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. An integrated test of the booster now topped by the probe is slated for this Wednesday.

New Horizons is the first mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program of medium-class planetary missions. The spacecraft was designed and built for NASA by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

Make some history

Pluto is a “treasure trove” of discoveries just waiting to be uncovered, said Andrew Dantzler, Director, Solar System Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. during a New Horizons press briefing held today.

The four billion mile voyage of New Horizons is also a four billion year trek back in time, said Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.

“The success of this mission is getting the goods at Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, Stern said. “Our objective is to get off to a good launch and make sure that the spacecraft, the entire system, is ready to go. We’ll fly it when we’re ready…and then we’ll make some history.”

The message from Stern is to expect surprises at Pluto. “We’ve been wrong again and again by underestimated nature,” he said.

Final phases

Inspection of the Atlas V booster is underway, Dantzler said, stressing that the 35 day launch window for New Horizons runs until February 14. “We’re being prudent and taking all measures to make sure it [the booster] is ready. We won’t launch until it is.”

“We’re in the final phases of the test campaign preparing for launch,” said David Kusnierkiewicz, New Horizons Mission Systems Engineer at APL.

Assuming liftoff during the primary launch window in January 2006, the first 13 months of New Horizons mission includes spacecraft and instrument checkouts, science sensor calibrations, trajectory correction maneuvers, and rehearsals for a Jupiter encounter.

New Horizons will depart Earth’s vicinity at a blistering 8 miles per second, passing the orbit of the Moon in just eight hours.
“Remember that the Apollo astronauts took some three days to cover that distance,” advised Glen Fountain, New Horizons Project Manager at APL. At that velocity, the spacecraft will encounter Jupiter in February 2007, picking up added speed as it zips by the massive planet.

Practice shot

The plan is to use the Jupiter encounter to test out hardware and procedures for the later Pluto flyby, 8.5 years later. “It’ll be our practice shot for Pluto,” Fountain said.

Stern of SwRI said New Horizons will be the eighth mission to Jupiter, filling in gaps of knowledge about the planet’s dynamic atmosphere and aurora, magnetosphere, and faint ring. “So it’s going to be a busy time.”

New Horizons is hauling seven key instruments, said William Gibson, New Horizons Science Payload Manager for SwRI in San Antonio, Texas. The probe’s camera system will begin relaying detailed images of Pluto about three months prior to closest approach, he said.

“The New Horizons payload is the most compact, low-power, high-performance payload yet to fly on U.S. planetary mission on a first reconnaissance flyby,” Gibson noted.

The spacecraft is roughly 8 feet (2.5 meters) across and weighs roughly 1,025 pounds (465 kilograms)—about half a ton—when loaded with fuel.

Beacon mode

APL’s Kusnierkiewicz said New Horizons is loaded with redundancy, except for the craft’s single radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or RTG. “These are highly reliable devices which have many years of experience in space flight,” he added.

Once past Jupiter, en route to Pluto, New Horizons will be put to sleep, Kusnierkiewicz explained. Very few systems onboard are to be active after completing the gravity assist at Jupiter, he said, to conserve the useful operating lifetime of electronics.

On the lengthy trail to Pluto, New Horizons is in “beacon mode”—the first operational use of this concept. The spacecraft will broadcast to Earth a once-a-week overall health report.

“If any remedial action is needed, the beacon will indicate the necessity for that and we will respond accordingly,” Kusnierkiewicz said.

Kids in a candy shop

New Horizons is to churn out imagery of Pluto at closest approach that will be 10,000 times better than what can be seen by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Speeding past Pluto and Charon, as well as two newly found moons circling the planet—with more likely to be found—New Horizons heads for the Kuiper Belt objects. That’s an extended mission, SwRI’s Stern said, depending upon spacecraft health and available funds.

“It has been a long road to get here,” Stern said, with launch now just a handful of days away.

“It will be like kids in a candy shop” when New Horizons reaches Pluto. “So hold onto your hats.”
**because sunlight is no brighter than the full moon out near Pluto, solar power panels wouldn't be sufficient to run the probe. For more info on the "RTG" power supplies the deep space probes use, see this link:

and this one **

ablethevoice 01-16-2006 02:32 PM

Pluto, Here We Come!!
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NASA Set to Launch Spacecraft to Pluto

By MIKE SCHNEIDER, Associated Press Writer
4 minutes ago

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - An unmanned NASA spacecraft the size of a piano is set to lift off Tuesday on a nine-year journey to Pluto, the last unexplored planet in the solar system.

Scientists hope to learn more about the icy planet and its large moon, Charon, as well as two other, recently discovered moons in orbit around Pluto.

The $700 million New Horizons mission also will study the surrounding Kuiper Belt, the mysterious zone of the solar system that is believed to hold thousands of comets and other icy objects. It could hold clues to how the planets were formed.

"They finally are going! I can't believe it!" said Patricia Tombaugh, 93, widow of Clyde Tombaugh, the Illinois-born astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930.

Patricia Tombaugh, her two children, and the astronomer's younger sister planned to witness the launch of the New Horizons spacecraft at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday afternoon.

Pluto is the only planet discovered by a U.S. citizen, though some astronomers dispute Pluto's right to be called a planet. It is an oddball icy dwarf unlike the rocky planets of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars and the gaseous planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

NASA has sent unmanned space probes to every planet but Pluto.

"What we know about Pluto today could fit on the back of a postage stamp," said Colleen Hartman, a deputy associate administrator at NASA. "The textbooks will be rewritten after this mission is completed."

New Horizons will lift off on an Atlas V rocket and speed away from Earth at 36,000 mph, the fastest spacecraft ever launched. It will reach Earth's moon in about nine hours* and arrive in 13 months at Jupiter, where it will use the giant planet's gravity as a slingshot, shaving five years off the 3-billion-mile** trip.

The launch had drawn protests from anti-nuclear activists because the spacecraft will be powered by 24 pounds of plutonium, which will produce energy from natural radioactive decay.

NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy have put the probability of an early-launch accident that could release plutonium at 1 in 350. The agencies have brought in 16 mobile field teams that can detect radiation and 33 air samplers and monitors.

"Just as we have ambulances at football games, you don't expect to use them, but we have them there if we need them," NASA official Randy Scott said.


On the Net:

Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space:

New Horizons Mission:

* It took the Apollo astronauts THREE DAYS to reach the Moon.
**4,828,000,000 km

Weasel 01-16-2006 06:18 PM

Re: Pluto, Here We Come!!
I have my name on the CD hitching a ride on this spacecraft.

Good luck! Eat up those peanuts NASA!

ablethevoice 01-16-2006 07:26 PM

Re: Pluto, Here We Come!!
hehe weasle, I forgot to mention that! My name as well as my wife's and kid's are also on that CD!

Savage_Nature 01-16-2006 11:33 PM

Re: Pluto, Here We Come!!
What CD is this?

ablethevoice 01-17-2006 07:29 AM

Re: Pluto, Here We Come!!
It's a CD with several thousand digital signatures of anyone who wanted to place their name on it. Last summer, a news story describing the final touches being made to the probe itself included a link where anyone who wanted to could add their name to a list which would be burned on the CD as a "message to the stars". The Pioneer and Voyager probes which went to Jupiter and Saturn in the 70s carried similar messages. Pioneer carried a gold anodized plaque with a "greeting card" engraved on it. Voyager carried a gold plated record with greetings from earth in 100-odd different languages, some selected pieces of music (including Johnny B. Good!!), and images of earth life (babies, sunrise, the ocean, waving fields of grain, etc) as a more complex greeting. Pioneer 10 and 11 as well as Voyager 1 and 2 are all well on their way to being out of the solar system, travelling into interstellar space.

Here's a link describing the Voyager Record (great site):

and one for the Pioneer Plaque

current Pioneer stats:

The CD on the New Horizon probe is similar, except it's just names.

ablethevoice 01-17-2006 03:10 PM

Pluto New Horizons Launch Scrubbed
Damn frustrating. NASA TV was running live coverage of the Pluto probe which was set to launch at a little past noon CDT today. I went from the TV in the room to my PC where I work- all day- taping the coverage and listening to the Mission Control folks go through their check and prelaunch lists... and after 4 frustrating countdown holds, they decided to cancel the damn launch today because the winds at the launch facility went above safety threshold. New Horizon is scheduled to launch tomorrow at 1216pm permitting.

ablethevoice 01-19-2006 09:01 PM

It's On Its Way!! FINALLY!!
Reaching for Pluto: NASA Launches Probe to Solar System's Edge

NASA’s first probe bound for the planet Pluto and beyond rocketed toward the distant world Thursday after two days of delay due to weather.

A Lockheed Martin-built Atlas 5 rocket flung the New Horizons spacecraft spaceward at 2:00 p.m. EST (1900), sending the probe speeding away from Earth at about 36,250 miles per hour (58,338 kilometers per hour)– the fastest ever for a NASA mission. The probe should pass the Moon at 11:00 EST (0400 Jan. 20 GMT) on a nine-year trek towards Pluto.

"The United States has a spacecraft on its way to Pluto, the Kuiper Belt and on to the stars," said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern during a post-launch press conference. "I have July 14, 2015 emblazoned on my calendar."

Initial reports indicate that the probe is in good health. Grounds stations received their first signals from New Horizons at about 2:50 p.m. EST (1950 GMT), which showed the spacecraft’s radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) – which uses heat from decaying plutonium dioxide to generate power – is online and performing as expected, mission managers said.

“The vehicle looks to be right where it needs to be," NASA launch manager Omar Baez, said just after liftoff. "It was Mother Nature that was holding us back earlier, but we got through it."

Weather woes

Indeed, nature was the bane of New Horizons’ launch from the beginning.

Flight controllers were forced to scrub an initial Jan. 17 launch attempt when winds proved too strong at the spacecraft’s Complex 41 launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. One day later, severe storms in Maryland prevented a second launch attempt when they knocked out power at New Horizons' mission control center at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. The laboratory is managing the mission for NASA.

Earlier today, thick cloud cover repeatedly forced flight controllers to push back New Horizons’ planned liftoff from 1:08 p.m. EST (1808 GMT), until the weather eased to meet launch guidelines.

“It was suspenseful, there was no question,” Stern said of today’s countdown, holding up a small stub of a pencil. “This has been our mascot for years, this little ground-down pencil…it represents perseverance.”

New Horizons mission managers took today’s launch as an opportunity to honor Pluto’s past.

Riding aboard the NASA spacecraft are ashes of the late astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the planet in 1930 at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Tombaugh died in Jan. 17, 1997, nine years to the day of New Horizons first launch attempt this week.

"I want to point out what a great honor it is to have Clyde's widow [and family] here with us," Stern said of Patsy Tombaugh, her daughter Annette and son-in-law.

Jim Kennedy, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center director, said earlier this week that a Florida quarter – bearing the image of a space shuttle – is also accompanying the probe to Pluto.

Onward to Pluto

The $700 million New Horizons mission began in earnest as the probe popped free from its third stage to begin the long, nine-year trek toward Pluto. The spacecraft should swing past Jupiter, grabbing a gravity boost in the process, in late February 2007, NASA officials said.

“This mission is going to the far frontier of our solar system,” said Richard Binzel, a science team co-investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), before today’s launch. “In some ways, our basic knowledge about Pluto could fit on a three-by-five inch note card.”

Pluto is the only member of the traditional nine-planet solar system not visited by a spacecraft, a statistic New Horizons hopes to change. The probe carries seven primary instruments to study Pluto, its moon Charon and two other objects – currently dubbed P1 and P2 – discovered orbiting the planet last year.

The spacecraft is designed to begin observing Pluto about five months before its scheduled flyby in July 2015, which will take place about three billion miles (five billion kilometers) from Earth on the 50th anniversary of Mariner 4’s flyby of Mars – NASA’s first ever red planet flyby, Stern said.

Mission managers expect New Horizons to speed past the planet at about 31,000 miles per hour while using its instrument package to build detailed maps of the planet, as well as study its composition and tenuous atmosphere.

About nine months after the encounter, the 1,054-pound (478-kilogram) spacecraft should finish sending its Pluto observations to Earth, which will take about 4.5 hours to reach researchers on the ground.

The information New Horizons will send to Earth about Pluto and its moons will likely alter our view of the distant, icy world, researchers said.

“I think it’s exciting that all the textbooks will have to be rewritten,” Stern said.

Thursday’s space shot marked the second Atlas 5 launch for NASA – the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter flight was the first – and the seventh flight overall for the Lockheed Martin rocket. The launch also marked the second success for NASA this week.

The space agency’s Stardust probe – which collected samples of interstellar dust and fragments of Comet Wild 2 (pronounced “Vilt 2”) – landed safely on the Utah desert on Jan. 15.

“”This week, NASA has accomplished an amazing one-two punch for…exploration,” said Andrew Dantzler, director of the solar system division at NASA’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. “It’s been a great day.”

**I watched this coverage LIVE on NASA TV. Amazing. From being on the ground to its full speed of over 36000 mph took less than 45 minutes!**

ablethevoice 01-30-2006 05:39 PM

New Horizons Pluto Probe-status report
New Horizons Successfully Performs First Post-Launch Maneuvers

The New Horizons spacecraft has successfully carried out its first post-launch maneuvers, conducting two small thruster firings that slightly adjusted its path toward the outer solar system and the first close-up study of distant planet Pluto.

Carried out today and Jan. 28 by mission operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., the maneuvers refined the spacecraft’s trajectory toward a gravity assist-flyby of Jupiter in February 2007. The gravity boost from Jupiter will put New Horizons on course for a close flyby of Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015.

“Everything performed as planned,” says New Horizons Project Manager Glen Fountain, of APL. “New Horizons has to fly through a precise aim point near Jupiter to get to Pluto on time and on target, and these maneuvers are putting us on the right path.”<br />

Where is New Horizons RIGHT NOW? Position map updated hourly:

ablethevoice 02-09-2006 08:44 PM

Pluto New Horizons Probe Weekly Update
As Of 8:00 PM Central time 2/9/06 (0200 UTC 2/10/06), the New Horizons Pluto Probe was 22,637,030 Km (14,066,650 miles) from Earth.
I posted the site for where the NH mission is at any given time a couple weeks ago, but if you can't be bothered to click on the link :biggrin: I'll post the weekly newsletters here... I get them emailed to me anyway...


Tom's Cruise
February 9, 2006

New Horizons continues to do well in flight — three weeks down and 492 to go. With more than 99% of the journey to the Pluto system still ahead of us, you might say we are just beginning — and we are. But we have retired much of the risk we worried about to reaching Pluto by getting a good launch and having our spacecraft perform well with most of its basic functionality now checked out. Recent tests have included checkout of our high-gain and medium-gain antenna communications, checkouts of the spacecraft's ability to autonomously find and point to the Sun and the Earth, and the calibration of our onboard gyros, technically called IMUs (short for Inertial Measurement Units).

Probably the highlight accomplishment of the past week is that we have, for the first time, checked out and been flying the spacecraft in three-axis control mode, rather than as a spinning top. In this mode, the spacecraft gyros and control jets work in concert to point the spacecraft to any commanded attitude we select on the ground, and then hold it there to an accuracy (called a "deadband" by navigators), which we also specify by command. Most of the past week has been spent with the spacecraft's high-gain antenna pointing to Earth, which is the way we will fly most of the mission. The three-axis flight mode will be critical for science operations at Jupiter, Pluto and Kuiper Belt Objects. It'll also be important for some trajectory correction maneuvers (TCMs), and for some instrument commissioning and calibration activities.

The only really off-nominal moments for the past week came in the wee hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings (wouldn't you know it) when the onboard guidance and navigation computer we are using (one of two we have aboard) reset itself, twice. This was caused by a known flaw in the onboard software code associated with navigation tasks using the onboard star tracker. The spacecraft team had already designed a fix for this, but that fix and various others are planned for uplink later this spring after thorough testing of the new software load. Although we got caught on this one by having the bug get us before the bug fix goes up, the reset went uneventfully and the spacecraft and its nav system performed as expected during the reset. Since this particular bug is a result of a being in spin mode, and we're now in three-axis, it's not going to re-occur anytime soon, if ever.

In just over another week, we'll begin the multi-month process of checking out and certifying the capabilities of our seven scientific instruments. I'll have more to say on that in coming posts.

For now, let's talk about our next TCM. Our mission design and navigation teams have elected to cancel TCM-2 so that we can track the spacecraft for several extra weeks and get an even more accurate bead on our trajectory before doing the final maneuver needed to clean up launch and early mission trajectory residuals. We'll likely do that maneuver on or about March 9, and it'll probably still be in the 1-2 meter/second range that was predicted last week after TCM-1B was completed. Now, however, the maneuver targeting will be far more accurate than it would have been, had we gone ahead with the more limited time base of tracking we would have had for the Feb. 15 burn. For obscure reasons, the TCM in March will now be called TCM-3.

About the only other spacecraft news item worth reporting is that our comm. system is performing so well that we've been able to communicate at much higher bit rates than we predicted pre-flight. In fact, we routinely downlink data at speeds up to 104* kbps, roughly 2.5 times our original plan. Of course, much lower data rates will be necessary as our range to Earth grows and grows, but perhaps we will be able to best the 0.7-1 kbps data rates planned for at Pluto by significant margins as well. I sure hope so — since it'll help us get the data down faster during and after the encounter. We'll see.

Since this has been such a quiet week on the spacecraft, I thought I'd wrap up with a story in this week's PI Perspective.

When we started New Horizons, as a proposal team back in the early part of 2001, we identified two major flight segments on the way to Pluto via a Jupiter Gravity Assist: we called these flight segments Cruise 1 and Cruise 2. Cruise 1 would take us from Earth to Jupiter. Cruise 2 would take us from Jupiter to Pluto. Owing to the pervasive presence and guidance of our project manager at the time, the Applied Physics Laboratory's Tom Coughlin, I re-named Cruise 1 "Tom's Cruise" back in 2001.

When Tom retired in early 2004, just after our Critical Design Review, we were lucky to get Glen Fountain as Tom's replacement. Tom and Glen are very different men, with very different management styles, but I honestly don't think we could have picked a better combination than to have Tom in the driver's seat for the proposal and formulation stages of the mission, and Glen driving during the build and test phase. In Glen's honor, I recently dubbed Cruise 2 to be "Glen's Glide." Now you can call the mission cruise phases by the same names we use.

See you next week.

-- Alan Stern

* They get data from 22 million miles out in space faster than my fucking dialup connection!!! Did I ever say BellSouth Sucks?? Oh yeah! That was my very first post in AS!

and once again, here's the "Where Is New Horizons Right Now" site:

ablethevoice 03-09-2006 04:13 PM

Pluto/New Horizons again
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I originally was lead to believe that there would be weekly updates on the status of the Pluto New Horizons mission, but I guess they only intend to send out stuff when there is something worthwhile to talk about. I also debated whether or not I was going to double-post on a thread that is now 3 weeks old and decided to not do it. At any rate:

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New Horizons Adjusts Course Toward Jupiter

With a 76-second burst from its thrusters today, New Horizons cleaned up the last of the small trajectory “dispersions” from launch and set its course toward next February’s gravity-assist flyby of Jupiter.

Changing the spacecraft’s velocity by about 1.16 meters per second, the maneuver was the smallest of the three New Horizons has carried out since launch on Jan. 19, and the first conducted with the spacecraft in three-axis pointing mode. It also aimed New Horizons toward the Pluto “keyhole” at Jupiter – the precise point where the giant planet’s gravity helps swing the spacecraft toward the close flyby of the Pluto system on July 14, 2015.

When the maneuver started at noon EST, New Horizons was about 51.7 million kilometers (32.1 million miles) from Earth, moving along its trajectory at 37.5 kilometers (23.3 miles) per second.* Mission operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., monitored spacecraft status through NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna station near Canberra, Australia.
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*That's 83,880 miles per hour, folks! (134,985 km/h)

And once again, I post the "where is New Horizons now?" link in case you would like to follow this little beast as it barrels towards Pluto:

The attached pic is an example of what you'll see if you visit the above link.

ablethevoice 04-01-2006 06:50 PM

New Horizon Pluto Probe Latest News
NASA Probe Enroute to Pluto in Good Health
Tariq Malik
Staff Writer
Fri Mar 31, 3:00 PM ET

NASA's New Horizons probe hurtling towards the distant planet Pluto is in working order after a series of instrument checks, the mission's top scientist said Thursday.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said almost all of the spacecraft's seven instruments have been checked after weeks of tests.

"It's really going spectacularly well," Stern told of the spacecraft, which is set to reach Pluto by 2015 after a Jupiter flyby early next year. "The whole approach to testing a spacecraft is to walk before you run."

Six of the seven instruments aboard New Horizons have been turned on to check their health and functionality, said Stern, who also serves as executive director of the space science and engineering division at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Two tools, the spacecraft's Student Dust Counter and its Solar Wind Analyzer around Pluto (SWAP), were expected to have seen first light by today, he added.

Built for NASA by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins Univeristy, New Horizons launched spaceward on Jan. 19 on the first-ever mission to explore Pluto, its moons and the odd Kuiper Belt Objects on the edge of the solar system. That flyby is expected to occur in July 2015 after the probe grabs a gravity boost from its Jupiter pass in early 2007.

"We're very heavily invested in the Jupiter science planning," Stern said, adding that mission planners need to have the observation sequences of that flyby ready by October 2006. "We have a pretty tight schedule, and we still have some spacecraft checkout to do. But we're above 90 percent now."

At least one New Horizons instrument must wait until the probe flies closer to Jupiter before its aperture door can be opened and initial tests can be performed.

The spacecraft's extremely sensitive Long Range Reconnaissance Imager - or LORRI - must wait until the probe flies deeper into space where sunlight levels are lower, Stern said.

"After launch, the issue has to do with accidental sun-pointing," Stern said. "LORRI is so sensitive we have to wait until we're almost to Jupiter to check it."

New Horizons mission planners expect to complete their initial round of instrument checks by mid-April.

The probe should begin its first round of calibration activities, including some observations, in late May, Stern added.

** As of 6:00 PM Central time on 1 Apr 2006, the New Horizons Probe has travelled 52,252,745 miles (84,088,744 kilometers) since launch at a speed of over 30,000 mph (48,000 km/hr). It will cut across the orbit of Mars (but not be near the planet itself) on Apr 06 2006 **

Sytrohs87 04-03-2006 10:16 AM

Re: New Horizon Pluto Probe Latest News
daaaaaaaaaaaamn.. i wanna be in a plane that travels 30,000 mph :tongue: however, i think i may melt into the seat. :ermm:

ablethevoice 04-03-2006 01:56 PM

Re: New Horizon Pluto Probe Latest News

Originally Said by Sytrohs87
daaaaaaaaaaaamn.. i wanna be in a plane that travels 30,000 mph :tongue: however, i think i may melt into the seat. :ermm:

It's not speed which presses you back into your seat, its acceleration. If you were in a vehicle which accelerated 1 mph per minute, you would barely feel it and it would take 30,000 minutes to get to 30,000 mph. If you were in another imaginary vehicle which accelerated 100 mph per second, you would definately feel it for the 300 seconds (5 minutes) it took to get to 30K mph-but only until you stopped accelerating. As long as this vehicle was travelling in a straight line and not changing its velocity, you wouldn't know you were travelling at all (assuming you were in space with no obvious reference points visible). The Earth is travelling 66,000 mph around the Sun but we don't feel that movement.

Sytrohs87 04-04-2006 11:17 AM

Re: New Horizon Pluto Probe Latest News
well yeah, there's always that :tongue:

ablethevoice 04-07-2006 10:38 AM

Another Milestone In The New Horizons Pluto Probe
**OK OK yes, I said that this would happen on 4/6/2006, but it was actually today. Anyway:

Passing the Orbit of Mars

New Horizons' trailblazing journey to the solar system's outermost frontier took it past the orbit of Mars at 6 a.m. EDT (1000 UTC) on April 7, 2006 - 78 days after the spacecraft launched.

At the time, because of Mars' position in its orbit, New Horizons was actually closer to Earth than to Mars - just 93.5 million kilometers (58.1 million miles) from home, compared to 299 million kilometers (186 million miles) from the red planet. Speeding away from the Sun at 21 kilometers (about 13 miles) per second, the spacecraft crossed Mars' path some 243 million kilometers (151 million miles) from the Sun - close to the farthest point in Mars' elliptical 687-day orbit.

Next up: Jupiter

New Horizons reaches its next planetary milestone on February 28, 2007, when it makes its closest approach to Jupiter. Unlike the distant Mars passing, the Jupiter encounter will be at close range, allowing New Horizons to make important scientific observations and to test procedures for its Pluto encounter in 2015. Additionally, New Horizons will use Jupiter's powerful gravity to boost its speed and adjust its course toward Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

**Oh, and I was mistaken about the NH's speed... That 13 miles per second works out to 46,800 mph-not 30,000 as I mentioned a few days ago.**

ablethevoice 04-29-2006 06:39 PM

100 Days In Space...
...And over nine years still to go.

New Horizons in Space: The First 100 Days

April 29 marks another milestone in New Horizons’ historic journey to Pluto – the spacecraft’s 100th day of flight.

“It’s been a good flight so far, and we’re working to keep it that way,” says New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

Since launch on from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Jan. 19, it has also been a busy flight. Among many activites, the mission team has conducted three small trajectory correction maneuvers, which exercised the spacecraft’s propulsion system and refined New Horizons’ path toward Jupiter for a gravity assist and science studies in February 2007; upgraded the software that controls the spacecraft’s flight computers; and carried out rigorous tests proving that all seven onboard science instruments survived launch and have their basic functions.

Having passed the orbit of Mars on April 7, the spacecraft continues to zoom toward the outer solar system, moving about the Sun at more than 69,570 miles (111,960 kilometers) per hour.*

“On a voyage to Pluto that will take nearly a decade, 100 days might not seem like much,” says Alan Stern, mission principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. “But the team has accomplished a lot in that short time, and the mission is going exceptionally well. Now we’re working hard to calibrate the scientific payload and prepare the science instruments and spacecraft for our encounter with Jupiter, just 10 months ahead.”

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*Several weeks ago, I had posted something about the NH probe and had mentioned its speed at being something in the neighborhood of 30,000 miles per hour. It's important to note that a vehicle's velocity through space is measured against something else. My calculations said it was moving 30000 mph. I was right- but that was its speed relative to the Earth, which is itself moving around the Sun at some 66000 mph. A more honest and accurate speed measurement is one relative to the Sun, not the Earth, because the Sun is essentially motionless relative to the planets. Using the Sun as the reference point, the stated velocity of almost 70000 mph is the more accurate speed.

ablethevoice 05-01-2006 07:22 PM

The Latest Newsletter From The New Horizon PI
1 Attachment(s)
**Just an update on whats going on with the Pluto New Horizons probe...**

"Exploration at Its Greatest"
May 1, 2006

Our space ship, New Horizons, was paid for by the people of the United States of America. New Horizons is on its way to the very frontier of our solar system: Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Great nations explore. Echoing the words of Dave Scott as he stepped onto the moon as commander of Apollo 15, "This is exploration at its greatest!" With the rush of events surrounding launch over, I am back to writing this column about once per month. We're more than 100 days into flight now, and in every respect, New Horizons continues doing fine.

As you know, the New Horizons mission team spent the first couple of months checking out the spacecraft subsystems and making our initial post-launch trajectory correction maneuvers. All of that went exceedingly well: We have a very healthy spacecraft flying right on its intended course to the Pluto aim point it must reach at Jupiter on February 28, 2007.

April included our crossing the orbit of Mars, outbound at over 75,000 kilometers an hour (47,000 miles/hour), on April 7. That was a nice milestone, but the biggest spacecraft event of the month was a new software load for our Command and Data Handling (C&DH) system. This load, called C&DH 3.5, went up and on line a few days before we crossed the orbit of Mars — on April 5. C&DH 3.5 contained a fix for a bug that we wanted to protect against well before we update the code in a more extensive way after the summer. That code version, called C&DH 4.0, will include a variety of capability enhancements, including data-compression capabilities we'll need for downlinking Pluto data.

I'll have more to say about the C&DH 4.0 load in a few months. For now, I just want to say that the 3.5 load is up and running as expected. To invoke a new C&DH load after it is transmitted up to the bird, one has to reboot the main spacecraft computer. So you can imagine how much care, how many design reviews, how much event simulation, and how much nail biting was involved in planning for this. Of course, the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) spacecraft and mission ops teams made it look easy on April 5, which is a real sign of the careful advance work put in over several weeks leading to that big day.

With the spacecraft doing well, most of the activities of April centered on instrument checkouts. Ralph, our main remote-sensing suite, and REX, our radio science experiment, both performed flawlessly in their initial functional checks. These occurred on March 21 and April 19, respectively.

Additionally, the SWAP solar wind detector, which opened its launch door on March 13 (the 151st anniversary of Percival Lowell's* birthday, no less!), turned on its detectors on March 28 for the first time. All went well.

Meanwhile, the LORRI imaging team has been collecting pre-door-opening calibration images to characterize their detector noise in flight. They are seeing some additional, nuisance-level noise events over what was seen on the ground. This is common when you get your instrument into the space environment, and something we expected since our spacecraft is carrying an RTG that was installed after the instrument calibrations. In fact, we expect the Ralph and Alice detectors to see the same kind of elevated, but still nuisance-level, noise when they calibrate in May.

Speaking of May, both PEPSSI (on May 3) and Alice (on May 20) will soon open their detector doors. Carefully, step by step, both of these instruments will then be fully powered and have their detectors turned on for "first light" measurements shortly thereafter. Next up: Ralph's front door will open on May 29. But since Ralph's door has a see-through window, first light and some early calibrations will be made on May 10. These will each be big milestones: we are opening up our "eyes" to space!

Yet another milestone will be our first "AU crossing," which will occur on May 7 when our spacecraft crosses 2 Astronomical Units and is twice as far from the Sun as the Earth. We'll have 31 more AU to go to reach Pluto, but just 3.2 AU to go to reach Jupiter.

Faster Communications

Finally, I just want to point to an exciting new prospect for New Horizons at Pluto itself: faster data rates. Our APL-based telecommunication team, led by Chris DeBoy, has worked out a way to use our redundant (opposite polarization) transmitters simultaneously to double our data rates. This "pump you up" technique will be tested later this year and used from time to time to reduce our need for downlink time on the Deep Space Network (DSN) on the way to Pluto.

When we reach Pluto, we plan to use the higher data transmission rates to cut the time required to send all of our data home in half—from what was almost 9 months, to just under 4.5 months. Even more impressively, the higher data rate will allow us to send home a "lossy compression" dataset with all of our spectra, all of our images, and all of our other data products within just two or three weeks of encounter! After all the years of delayed gratification that this mission entails, this is welcome news indeed. After all, everyone will be on the edge of their chairs in the summer of 2015 to see Pluto revealed — scientists and laypeople alike!

Well, that's all I have for now. So until next time . . .

-- Alan Stern

* Percival Lowell was the man who actually discovered Pluto in 1930.

In case you are wondering what all the odd acronyms are (PEPSI, SWAP, LORRI, etc) its the names of the specific instruments all designed to gather specialized types of data over and above mere pictures. The attachment is a bit small but if you open it in Win Pic viewer you can zoom it in fairly well.

ablethevoice 05-27-2006 08:36 PM

E-Mails from the New Horizons Folks
I thought I'd share with you a couple of brief exchanges I've had with the NH folks thru email over the last couple of weeks. I realize these might not make any sense unless you have actually visited the "WHERE IS HEW HORIZONS NOW?" page

but I'll post them anyway!

My first question:
__________________________________________________ __________

Sent: Sunday, April 02, 2006 7:43 PM
To: New-Horizons-Web
Subject: General Question from New Horizons Web Site

Hello folks.

First of all, I am absolutely thrilled that your project is working as well as it is. I've been keeping up with just about every word of news which has been released on the mission. Major congratulations to the builders of your intrepid little robot and I wish for the best for all of you folks there at the NH mission control.

Now to my question. I check at least once a day the "where is NEW HORIZONS" site, and one bit of data has me slightly confused. The "DISTANCE FROM EARTH" figure updated hourly...this, I assume is actually distance travelled since launch as opposed to the distance currently from Earth. Am I correct in that assumption?

Thanks. And again congratulations to you all for a beautiful launch and a (so far) perfect trip.
__________________________________________________ ____________

and the response came very swiftly- one day later to be exact:

__________________________________________________ ____________
Thank you for your note, and your kind words. Actually, the "distance from Earth" is the actual distance from Earth at the time, not the total distance traveled from home. We're looking at many ways to improve the "Where is New Horizons?" site, and that total travel distance is one of the figures we may be able to incorporate.

Again, thanks for checking in on New Horizons!

Best wishes,
Mike Buckley

Michael Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Office of Communications and Public Affairs
Laurel, Maryland

__________________________________________________ ___________
My second question:

Sent: Saturday, May 13, 2006 10:46 PM
To: Buckley, Michael R.
Subject: RE: General Question from New Horizons Web Site

Hello again, Mr Buckley

I wrote you a couple of weeks ago concerning a question about the NH probe's distance from Earth. I appreciate your taking time to respond.

First a comment on your new updated "Where Is NH" site. I noticed the changes you folks have made and I like them a lot. I visit the page several times a day. I have noticed that the overall forward velocity of the probe has gone down a bit in the last couple of weeks from nearly 31 km/s to a bit over 29 km/sec. I presume this is an expected occurance...the deceleration being caused by Solar gravitational drag predominantly, but also from the gravitational effects of the other planets. However, this isn't the subject of my question.

I was wondering, when NH hits the Jupiter Keyhole next year and gets its slingshot course adjustment, how much will NH be sped up at the end of that maneuver?

Again, congrats on a fine machine (very glad to hear that all the scientific instruments are working well) and a fine cruise so far. Hehe... I only wish Microsoft's software updates were half as effective as your programming team's success in updating the New Horizon's OS.
__________________________________________________ ___________

And again Mr. Buckley responded with admirable speed:

__________________________________________________ ___________
Monday, May 15, 2006

Hello again, Tom!

Thank you for your note, and for keeping in touch with us on New Horizons. I appreciate your thoughts on the "Where Is New Horizons?" page -- I really like the addition of the heliocentric velocity, though I'm curious as to what people think of the switch from kilometers to Astronomical Units. I'm glad to hear you're a regular visitor to the page!

We're all very happy with the mission's early progress; it's been a great "first 100" days (plus) and we're really looking forward to the Jupiter encounter . . .

Speaking of which, to answer your question, the Jupiter swingby will increase New Horizons' heliocentric velocity by about 4 kilometers per second, or 9,000 miles per hour.

Best wishes,
Mike Buckley
__________________________________________________ ___________

This is refreshing that the NH folks have such a responsive and informative public affairs office.

If I have any other questions I end up sending off to them, I'll post them here in this thread so keep an eye out once in a while.

Weasel 05-27-2006 09:14 PM

Re: E-Mails from the New Horizons Folks
That's interesting stuff. You check that site several times a day though? :wink: Remind me when it gets close in 2015. :wink: That's going to be 9 years of waiting for one day of glory.

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