The PI’s Perspective: Probing Farther in the Kuiper Belt with New Horizons

This composite image of the primordial contact binary Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) – featured on the cover of the May 17 issue of the journal Science – was compiled from data obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by the object on Jan. 1, 2019. The image combines enhanced color data (close to what the human eye would see) with detailed high-resolution panchromatic pictures. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko)

New Horizons Mission Update
by Alan Stern
Principal Investigator

New Horizons is healthy and performing perfectly as it flies deeper and deeper into the Kuiper Belt! Recently we conducted an engineering review of the spacecraft to “trend” how it was working compared to when it was launched. The result was amazing: Every system and science instrument aboard New Horizons is working as well as it did when we lifted off, more than 14 years and almost 5 billion miles ago. As mission principal investigator I could not be prouder — the men and women who designed, built and tested New Horizons literally created a masterpiece of American workmanship that will likely be able to perform and explore for many more years and many more miles!

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New Horizons Kuiper Belt Flyby Object Officially Named ‘Arrokoth’

This composite image of the primordial contact binary Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 (nicknamed Ultima Thule) – featured on the cover of the May 17 issue of the journal Science – was compiled from data obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by the object on Jan. 1, 2019. The image combines enhanced color data (close to what the human eye would see) with detailed high-resolution panchromatic pictures. (Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — In a fitting tribute to the farthest flyby ever conducted by spacecraft, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 has been officially named Arrokoth, a Native American term meaning “sky” in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. 

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NASA to Host Live Science Chat on Asteroid, Kuiper Belt Missions

This is an artist’s concept of NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft preparing to take a sample from asteroid Bennu. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/Chris Meaney)

NASA will host a live Science Chat at 2 p.m. EST Wednesday, Nov. 7, to discuss upcoming encounters of two of the agency’s planetary missions – the arrival of the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) at the asteroid Bennu, on Dec. 3, and New Horizons’ historic flyby of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, on Jan. 1, 2019.

Topics will include the critical clues these objects hold to the formation of the solar system, complementary mission science goals and much more.

The event will air on Facebook Live, NASA Television, UstreamYouTube and the agency’s website.

Participants include:

  • Hal Weaver, New Horizons Project Scientist, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
  • Melissa Morris, OSIRIS-REx Deputy Program Scientist, NASA Headquarters

Media may submit questions before and during the event by emailing JoAnna Wendel at joanna.r.wendel@nasa.gov. The public may ask questions on Twitter by using the hashtag #askNASA or by leaving a comment on the livestream of the event on the NASA Solar System page.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will initiate an intricate dance with Bennu, mapping and studying it in preparation for sample collection in July 2020. OSIRIS-REx will deliver the sample to Earth in September 2023.

New Horizons will fly by its target, nicknamed Ultima Thule, approximately four billion miles from Earth – the farthest space probe flyby in history. This encounter complements the discoveries still coming from the mission’s July 2015 exploration of the Pluto system. However, this time, the spacecraft will come three times closer to Ultima than it did to Pluto.

For information about NASA’s New Horizons mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

For more information about NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex