New Horizons completes record-setting Kuiper Belt targeting maneuvers

November 6, 2015
Path to a KBO: Projected route of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft toward 2014 MU69, which orbits in the Kuiper Belt about 1 billion miles beyond Pluto. Planets are shown in their positions on Jan. 1, 2019, when New Horizons is projected to reach the small Kuiper Belt object. NASA must approve an extended mission for New Horizons to study the ancient KBO.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has successfully performed the last in a series of four targeting maneuvers that set it on course for a January 2019 encounter with 2014 MU69. This ancient body in the Kuiper Belt is more than a billion miles beyond Pluto; New Horizons will explore it if NASA approves an extended mission.

The four propulsive maneuvers were the most distant trajectory corrections ever performed by any spacecraft. The fourth maneuver, programmed into the spacecraft's computers and executed with New Horizons' hydrazine-fueled thrusters, started at approximately 1:15 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Nov. 4, and lasted just under 20 minutes. Spacecraft operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, began receiving data through NASA's Deep Space Network just before 7 p.m. EST on Wednesday indicating the final targeting maneuver went as planned.

The maneuvers didn't speed or slow the spacecraft as much as they "pushed" New Horizons sideways, giving it a 57 meter per second (128 mile per hour) nudge toward the KBO. That's enough to make New Horizons intercept MU69 in just over three years.

"This is another milestone in the life of an already successful mission that's returning exciting new data every day," said Curt Niebur, New Horizons program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "These course adjustments preserve the option of studying an even more distant object in the future, as New Horizons continues its remarkable journey."

The New Horizons team will submit a formal proposal to NASA for the extended mission to 2014 MU69 in early 2016. The science team hopes to explore even closer to MU69 than New Horizons came to Pluto on July 14, which was approximately 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers).

Getting the data: Following the last in a series of four maneuvers targeting NASA's New Horizons spacecraft toward Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, flight controller George Lawrence monitors spacecraft data as it streams into the New Horizons Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory on Nov. 4, 2015. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

"New Horizons is healthy and now on course to make the first exploration of a building block of small planets like Pluto, and we're excited to propose its exploration to NASA,"said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.

The KBO targeting maneuvers were the mission's largest and longest, and carried out in a succession faster than any sequence of previous New Horizons engine burns. They were also incredibly accurate, performing almost exactly as they were designed and setting New Horizons on the course mission designers predicted. "The performance of each maneuver was spot on," said APL's Gabe Rogers, New Horizons spacecraft systems engineer and guidance and control lead.

The first three maneuvers were carried out on Oct. 22, 25 and 28. At the time of yesterday's maneuver, New Horizons, speeding toward deeper space at more than 32,000 miles per hour, was approximately 84 million miles (135 million kilometers) beyond Pluto and nearly 3.2 billion miles (about 5.1 billion kilometers) from Earth. The spacecraft is currently 895 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) from MU69. All systems remain healthy and the spacecraft continues to transmit data stored on its digital recorders from its flight through the Pluto system in July.

New Horizons is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute leads the science mission, payload operations, and encounter science planning.

Explore further: New Horizons detects surface features, possible polar cap on Pluto

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Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Nov 07, 2015
NASA press releases are written in ESL now, "propulsive maneuvers" that didn't change the speed but "pushed sideways."
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (10) Nov 07, 2015
Hey good ol' Doug, your sarcasm is hilarious as always.
NASA press releases are written in ESL now, "propulsive maneuvers" that didn't change the speed but "pushed sideways."
How would it be possible to effectuate "propulsive maneuvers" without changing speed, especially when we know that the target was chosen with respect to a limited delta-v budget? Isn't delta-v a variation of speed?

Well, John Hopkins University is kind enough to keep us up to date with New Horizons http://pluto.jhua...ndex.php and thanks to them we know that, at this moment, it has an heliocentric speed of 14460m/s that is after a sideway course correction of 57m/s. We just have to apply Pythagore √14460² - 57² = 14459.89m/s ! So the forward component that represents the effective speed variation is of 0.11m/s or 0.00078% of its total speed. We can still argue that it is a change of speed but it would be kind of misleading wouldn't it?
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (11) Nov 07, 2015
The difference between "speed" and "velocity" is a matter of definition. "Speed" is a number, (distance units)/(time units), and has no directional information.

"Velocity" is a vector, combining speed and direction. If you're driving 50 km/hr due west, come to an intersection, and start driving south at 50 km/hr, your speed hasn't changed. Your velocity, on the other hand, has, by 90 degrees.

A sideways push can change the velocity of a spacecraft without changing the foreward speed, but as TechnoCreed said, the total speed will usually change slightly, due to the vectors. You have added a sideways component to the forward component of the velocity.

If the push is directed very slightly backwards, rather than straight to the side, this can be cancelled out, leaving the speed the same.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (8) Nov 07, 2015
Thank you nkalanaga.

I should have wrote heliocentric velocity, instead of heliocentric speed.
Jonseer
1 / 5 (6) Nov 08, 2015
What a who cares moment.

The New Horizon's team was lucky nobody noticed how much Charon looked like one of the moons of Uranus or that Pluto looked quite similar to Triton the moon of Neptune.

All in all despite their claims of discovering new, unexpected things, all they did was confirm what was theorized regarding Pluto and Charon based on Triton and could have been deduced from looking at the Ice Giant's moons in general.

The giant crack on Charon isn't new either. Ariel has not one but 2 globe spanning cracks just as impressive.

Bottom line is instead of shooting their wad on a 10 sec. closeup of Pluto/Charon they should have gone for the jackpot and put an orbiter around Neptune or Uranus. They would have learned much more about what they did find out about Pluto from the moons of either Ice Giant.
strappolee
not rated yet Nov 08, 2015
Where will New Horizons and its third stage be eons from now?
Any close encounters with an extraterrestrial Ort cloud?
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (4) Nov 08, 2015
Jonseer: The point is that we now KNOW that Triton and Pluto are similar, and that there are also significant differences. Before, we had only theories, and theories are often wrong.

Also, a Triton orbiter would have cost more, and taken longer to arrive, than New Horizons, and we still wouldn't know anything new about the Pluto/Charon system. Now, we've had flybys of both, and can make an informed choice about which, if either, to send an orbiter to.

Strappolee: No way to tell. If it has fuel, and another target can be identified, in theory it could visit yet another KBO. So, we don't yet know its final trajectory.
Lex Talonis
not rated yet Nov 09, 2015
I am just staggered at the hugeness of it all.

Hugely reliable equipment, distances, time spans, signal beaming and amplification, the size of our teeny little solar system.... and it's HUGEness + and then going even into BIGGER hugeness.....

Which is absolutely nothing, in the nothingness of the hugenesslessness of the observed, universe.

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