“Chasing New Horizons” Gets to the Heart of Mysterious Pluto

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Chasing New Horizons: Insider the Epic First Mission to Pluto
by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon
Picador, 2018
hardcover, 320 pp., illus.
ISBN 978-1-250-09896-2
US$28.00

As America celebrated Independence Day on July 4, 2015, many members of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) team that had guiding NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft toward the first ever exploration of Pluto took a little time off to relax before their lives became very busy.

After a 9.5-year long journey, the spacecraft was only 10 days out from its closest approach to the mysterious dwarf planet. All the secrets Pluto had kept hidden for 85 years since Clyde Tombaugh discovered in 1930 were about to be revealed.

And then the unthinkable happened. Controllers suddenly lost contact with the spacecraft as they were loading the final software needed to guide it through week-long flyby sequence set to begin in only three days. When communications were restored, controllers discovered to its horror that the program and all the supporting files they had spent months uploading had been wiped from the spacecraft’s computer.

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NASA Prepares to Launch a Mission to Touch the Sun

Illustration of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe leaving Earth. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — Early on an August morning, the sky near Cape Canaveral, Florida, will light up with the launch of Parker Solar Probe. No earlier than Aug. 6, 2018, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy will thunder to space carrying the car-sized spacecraft, which will study the Sun closer than any human-made object ever has.
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Charon Discovered 40 Years Ago

Forty years after his important discovery, Jim Christy holds two of the telescope images he used to spot Pluto’s large moon Charon in June 1978. A close-up photo of Charon, taken by the New Horizons spacecraft during its July 2015 flyby, is displayed on his computer screen. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Art Howard/GHSPi)

New Horizons Team Celebrates Four Decades of Discovery on Pluto’s Large, Amazing Moon

Laurel, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — The largest of Pluto’s five moons, Charon, was discovered 40 years ago today by James Christy and Robert Harrington at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona – only about six miles from where Pluto itself was discovered at Lowell Observatory. They weren’t even looking for satellites of Pluto – Christy was trying to refine Pluto’s orbit around the Sun.

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New Horizons Wakes for Historic Kuiper Belt Flyby

One artist’s concept of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, the next flyby target for NASA’s New Horizons mission. This binary concept is based on telescope observations made at Patagonia, Argentina on July 17, 2017 when MU69 passed in front of a star. New Horizons theorize that it could be a single body with a large chunk taken out of it, or two bodies that are close together or even touching. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is back “awake” and being prepared for the farthest planetary encounter in history – a New Year’s Day 2019 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule.

Cruising through the Kuiper Belt more than 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) from Earth, New Horizons had been in resource-saving hibernation mode since Dec. 21. Radio signals confirming that New Horizons had executed on-board computer commands to exit hibernation reached mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, via NASA’s Deep Space Network at 2:12 a.m. EDT on June 5.

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Fast Company Selects Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Space


Fast Company has released its annual list of the most innovative companies for 2018. The 10 top innovators in the space industry are shown above.

I’m a bit surprised by Stratolaunch landing at no. 10. The aircraft is impressive; I’ve seen it in person outside, and it’s positively Spruce Goosian in its size and ambition. And I’ve been on tarmacs walking around a 747 and an A380, which are also very large airplanes.

That being said, the reality is that the only rocket it available to launch is a Pegasus, whose primary launch aircraft is Orbital ATK’s 44-year old L-1011 that’s parked just down the flight line from the Stratolaunch hangar. They’re working on developing a larger booster for the giant aircraft, so maybe Stratolaunch will be as innovative as Fast Company believes it is at some point. Never say never.

It just seems that Burt Rutan got focused on building the coolest flying vehicle he could while the whole issue of the rocket was not as well thought through. A similar thing happened with SpaceShipTwo, contributing to years of delay.

The other thing is I heard last fall is the Stratolaunch aircraft might not fly until sometime well into next year. So, it could be a while before we see how well that thing actually performs in flight.

JHU APL Monitoring Instrument Rides into Space on New Shepard Vehicle

New Shepard capsule after landing. (Credit: Blue Origin)

LAUREL, Md. (JHU APL PR) — The newest realm of space travel is closer to home than many think, but still shrouded in mystery. And while Earth’s upper atmosphere may soon be a destination for tourists, scientists from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, are blazing a research trail in this “suborbital” region with the launch of an instrument to study flight conditions 60 miles above ground.

The JANUS integration and monitoring platform flew on Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle on Dec. 12. The device, about the size of a car battery, will provide researchers with a look at suborbital conditions from inside a crew capsule.

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New Horizons Corrects Its Course in the Kuiper Belt

The New Horizons spacecraft is about 300 million miles (483 million kilometers) from 2014 MU69, the Kuiper Belt object it will encounter on Jan. 1, 2019. Track the NASA spacecraft on its voyage. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/ Southwest Research Institute)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft carried out a short, 2.5-minute engine burn on Saturday, Dec. 9 that refined its course toward 2014 MU69, the ancient Kuiper Belt object it will fly by a little more than a year from now.

Setting a record for the farthest spacecraft course correction to date, the engine burn also adjusted the arrival time at MU69 to optimize flyby science.

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NASA Extends Campaign to Nickname New Horizons’ Next Target

One artist’s concept of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, the next flyby target for NASA’s New Horizons mission. This binary concept is based on telescope observations made at Patagonia, Argentina on July 17, 2017 when MU69 passed in front of a star. New Horizons theorize that it could be a single body with a large chunk taken out of it, or two bodies that are close together or even touching. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA is extending the campaign to find a temporary tag for the next flyby target of its New Horizons mission, giving the public until midnight Eastern Time on Dec. 6 to continue to help select a nickname for the Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69.

On New Year’s Day 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past this small, frozen Kuiper Belt world (or pair of worlds, if MU69 is a binary as scientists suspect) near the outer edge of our planetary system. This Kuiper Belt object (KBO) currently goes by the official designation “(486958) 2014 MU69.” But earlier this month, NASA and the New Horizons team asked the public for help in giving “MU69” a nickname to use for this exploration target. The public suggested such a wide range of creative and quality nicknames that the mission team wanted to give web visitors additional time to vote.

The public suggested such a wide range of creative and quality nicknames that the mission team wanted to give web visitors additional time to vote. More than 96,000 votes have been cast and 31,000 names nominated, with participation coming from 118 countries.

The campaign website (http://frontierworlds.seti.org) includes nicknames under consideration; site visitors can vote for their favorites or nominate names they think should be added to the ballot. The campaign will close at midnight EST/9 pm PST on Wednesday, Dec. 6. NASA and the New Horizons team will review the top vote-getters and announce a selection in early January.

Learn more about New Horizons, NASA’s mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, at http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and http://pluto.jhuapl.edu.

Scientists Asks Public to Name New Horizons’ Next Flyby Target

One artist’s concept of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, the next flyby target for NASA’s New Horizons mission. This binary concept is based on telescope observations made at Patagonia, Argentina on July 17, 2017 when MU69 passed in front of a star. New Horizons theorize that it could be a single body with a large chunk taken out of it, or two bodies that are close together or even touching. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt is looking for your ideas on what to informally name its next flyby destination, a billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) past Pluto.

On New Year’s Day 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past a small, frozen world in the Kuiper Belt, at the outer edge of our solar system. The target Kuiper Belt object (KBO) currently goes by the official designation “(486958) 2014 MU69.” NASA and the New Horizons team are asking the public for help in giving “MU69” a nickname to use for this exploration target.

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New Horizons’ Next Target Just Got a Lot More Interesting

One artist’s concept of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, the next flyby target for NASA’s New Horizons mission. This binary concept is based on telescope observations made at Patagonia, Argentina on July 17, 2017 when MU69 passed in front of a star. New Horizons theorize that it could be a single body with a large chunk taken out of it, or two bodies that are close together or even touching. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — Could the next flyby target for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft actually be two targets?

New Horizons scientists look to answer that question as they sort through new data gathered on the distant Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69, which the spacecraft will fly past on Jan. 1, 2019. That flyby will be the most distant in the history of space exploration, a billion miles beyond Pluto.

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NASA’s First Asteroid Deflection Mission Enters Next Design Phase

DART spacecraft (Credit: JHU APL)

LAUREL, Md. (JHU APL PR) — The first-ever mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defense – the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which is being designed and would be built and managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory – is moving from concept development to preliminary design phase, following NASA’s approval on June 23.

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NASA Smallsats to Take Fresh Look at Earth

TROPICS, a new NASA Earth-observing mission announced this year, will study the insides of hurricanes with a constellation of 12 CubeSats. (Credit: MIT Lincoln Laboratory)
TROPICS, a new NASA Earth-observing mission announced this year, will study the insides of hurricanes with a constellation of 12 CubeSats. (Credit: MIT Lincoln Laboratory)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Beginning this month, NASA is launching a suite of six next-generation, Earth-observing small satellite missions to demonstrate innovative new approaches for studying our changing planet.

These small satellites range in size from a loaf of bread to a small washing machine and weigh from a few to 400 pounds. Their small size keeps development and launch costs down as they often hitch a ride to space as a “secondary payload” on another mission’s rocket – providing an economical avenue for testing new technologies and conducting science.

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New Horizons Returns Last Bits of 2015 Pluto Flyby Data to Earth

This high-resolution image captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). The bright expanse is the western lobe of the “heart,” informally called Sputnik Planum, which has been found to be rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
This high-resolution image captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). The bright expanse is the western lobe of the “heart,” informally called Sputnik Planum, which has been found to be rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — Having traveled from the New Horizons spacecraft over 3.4 billion miles, or 5.5 billion kilometers (five hours, eight minutes at light speed), the final item – a segment of a Pluto-Charon observation sequence taken by the Ralph/LEISA imager – arrived at mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, at 5:48 a.m. EDT on Oct. 25. The downlink came via NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia. It was the last of the 50-plus total gigabits of Pluto system data transmitted to Earth by New Horizons over the past 15 months.

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NASA Funds Research into Improved Deep Space Solar Panels

Technicians test the deployment of a massive solar array that will power future NASA spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin)
Technicians test the deployment of a massive solar array that will power future NASA spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Game Changing Development (GCD) program has selected four proposals to develop solar array technologies that will aid spacecraft in exploring destinations well beyond low-Earth orbit, including Mars. One of these proposals is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

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New Horizons Team Receives 2016 Goddard Trophy

This high-resolution image captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). The bright expanse is the western lobe of the “heart,” informally called Sputnik Planum, which has been found to be rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
This high-resolution image captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). The bright expanse is the western lobe of the “heart,” informally called Sputnik Planum, which has been found to be rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

WASHINGTON, DC  (National Space Club PR) — The National Space Club is pleased to announce The New Horizons Pluto mission team has won the 2016 Dr. Robert H. Goddard Memorial Trophy, the Club’s highest honor given annually to the individual or team who has provided leadership in ground breaking space and aeronautics capability to the USA. The Award will be presented at the 59th Annual Robert H. Goddard Memorial Dinner, taking place at the Washington Hilton Hotel on Friday, March 11, 2016.

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