“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 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

Ultima in View: NASA’s New Horizons Makes First Detection of Kuiper Belt Flyby Target

The figure on the left is a composite image produced by adding 48 different exposures from the News Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), each with an exposure time of 29.967 seconds, taken on Aug. 16, 2018. The predicted position of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule is at the center of the yellow box, and is indicated by the yellow crosshairs, just above and left of a nearby star that is approximately 17 times brighter than Ultima. At right is a magnified view of the region in the yellow box, after subtraction of a background star field “template” taken by LORRI in September 2017 before it could detect the object itself. Ultima is clearly detected in this star-subtracted image and is very close to where scientists predicted, indicating to the team that New Horizons is being targeted in the right direction. The many artifacts in the star-subtracted image are caused either by small mis-registrations between the new LORRI images and the template, or by intrinsic brightness variations of the stars. At the time of these observations, Ultima Thule was 107 million miles (172 million kilometers) from the New Horizons spacecraft and 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from the Sun. (Image credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — Mission team members were thrilled – if not a little surprised – that New Horizons’ telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was able to see the small, dim object while still more than 100 million miles away, and against a dense background of stars. Taken Aug. 16 and transmitted home through NASA’s Deep Space Network over the following days, the set of 48 images marked the team’s first attempt to find Ultima with the spacecraft’s own cameras.

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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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Alan Stern to Visit Mojave to Talk About “Chasing New Horizons”

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern celebrates a Guinness World Record certificate on July 19 at U.S. Postal Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Dan Afzal, U.S. Postal Service)

MOJAVE, Calif. (MASP PR) — Alan Stern will be at the Stuart O. Witt Event Center at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 from 4:00 pm – 5:00 p.m. promoting his new book, “Chasing New Horizons”. He will speak for around 30 minutes and then will chat and sign books.

Seating is limited. If you plan to attend, Please RSVP to info@mojaveairport.com no later than Thursday, June 7th.

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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Missions to Moon, Mars, Mercury & More Set for 2018

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

Updated with SpaceX’s Red Tesla launch.

An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.

NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.

And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars.
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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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Fly Over Pluto with this Amazing Video

Video Caption: Using actual New Horizons data and digital elevation models of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, mission scientists have created flyover movies that offer spectacular new perspectives of the many unusual features that were discovered and which have reshaped our views of the Pluto system – from a vantage point even closer than the spacecraft itself.

This dramatic Pluto flyover begins over the highlands to the southwest of the great expanse of nitrogen ice plain informally named Sputnik Planitia. The viewer first passes over the western margin of Sputnik, where it borders the dark, cratered terrain of Cthulhu Macula, with the blocky mountain ranges located within the plains seen on the right. The tour moves north past the rugged and fractured highlands of Voyager Terra and then turns southward over Pioneer Terra — which exhibits deep and wide pits — before concluding over the bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa in the far east of the encounter hemisphere.

Digital mapping and rendering were performed by Paul Schenk and John Blackwell of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

NIAC Projects Target Mars, Venus & Pluto

Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump mission. (Credit: Benjamin Goldman)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An airship for Mars, two spacecraft capable of exploring the hellish environment of Venus, and a fusion-powered orbiter and lander for Pluto are three of the planetary-related research projects recently funded by theNASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

In all, NIAC funded eight advanced projects focused on Mars, Venus and Pluto in its latest annual funding round. The space agency also funded two proposals aimed at identifying and extracting resources on planets, moons and asteroids.
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NIAC Funds Advanced Propulsion Projects

Mach Effects for In Space Propulsion: Interstellar Mission. (Credit: Heidi Fearn)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently funded six proposals focused on futuristic propulsion systems for missions to Pluto, Venus and other solar systems.

There were four Phase I proposals that are worth approximately $125,000 apiece over nine months. NIAC also funded two Phase II proposals that are worth $500,000 each for two-year investigations.

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NIAC Phase II Award: Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander

Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander (Credit: Stephanie Thomas)

Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander

Stephanie Thomas
Princeton Satellite Systems, Inc.
Plainsboro, NJ

Amount: up to $500,000
Length of Study: 2 years

Description

The Direct Fusion Drive (DFD) concept provides game-changing propulsion and power capabilities that would revolutionize interplanetary travel. DFD is based on the Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration (PFRC) fusion reactor under development at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

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