New Horizons team selects potential Kuiper Belt flyby target

August 29, 2015
Artist's impression of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Pluto-like object in the distant Kuiper Belt. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Steve Gribben

NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic July 14 flyby of the Pluto system. The destination is a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto.

This remote KBO was one of two identified as potential destinations and the one recommended to NASA by the New Horizons team. Although NASA has selected 2014 MU69 as the target, as part of its normal review process the agency will conduct a detailed assessment before officially approving the extension to conduct additional science.

"Even as the New Horizon's spacecraft speeds away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt, and the data from the exciting encounter with this new world is being streamed back to Earth, we are looking outward to the next destination for this intrepid explorer," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and chief of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington. "While discussions whether to approve this extended mission will take place in the larger context of the planetary science portfolio, we expect it to be much less expensive than the prime mission while still providing new and exciting science."

Like all NASA missions that have finished their main objective but seek to do more exploration, the New Horizons team must write a proposal to the agency to fund a KBO mission. That proposal—due in 2016—will be evaluated by an independent team of experts before NASA can decide about the go-ahead.

Early target selection was important; the team needs to direct New Horizons toward the object this year in order to perform any extended mission with healthy fuel margins. New Horizons will perform a series of four maneuvers in late October and early November to set its course toward 2014 MU69—nicknamed "PT1" (for "Potential Target 1")—which it expects to reach on January 1, 2019. Any delays from those dates would cost precious fuel and add mission risk.

Path of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft toward its next potential target, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, nicknamed "PT1" (for "Potential Target 1") by the New Horizons team. Although NASA has selected 2014 MU69 as the target, as part of its normal review process the agency will conduct a detailed assessment before officially approving the mission extension to conduct additional science. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Alex Parker

"2014 MU69 is a great choice because it is just the kind of ancient KBO, formed where it orbits now, that the Decadal Survey desired us to fly by," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. "Moreover, this KBO costs less fuel to reach [than other candidate targets], leaving more fuel for the flyby, for ancillary science, and greater fuel reserves to protect against the unforeseen."

New Horizons was originally designed to fly beyond the Pluto system and explore additional Kuiper Belt objects. The spacecraft carries extra hydrazine fuel for a KBO flyby; its communications system is designed to work from far beyond Pluto; its power system is designed to operate for many more years; and its scientific instruments were designed to operate in light levels much lower than it will experience during the 2014 MU69 flyby.

The 2003 National Academy of Sciences' Planetary Decadal Survey ("New Frontiers in the Solar System") strongly recommended that the first mission to the Kuiper Belt include flybys of Pluto and small KBOs, in order to sample the diversity of objects in that previously unexplored region of the solar system. The identification of PT1, which is in a completely different class of KBO than Pluto, potentially allows New Horizons to satisfy those goals.

But finding a suitable KBO flyby target was no easy task. Starting a search in 2011 using some of the largest ground-based telescopes on Earth, the New Horizons team found several dozen KBOs, but none were reachable within the fuel supply aboard the spacecraft.

The powerful Hubble Space Telescope came to the rescue in summer 2014, discovering five objects, since narrowed to two, within New Horizons' flight path. Scientists estimate that PT1 is just under 30 miles (about 45 kilometers) across; that's more than 10 times larger and 1,000 times more massive than typical comets, like the one the Rosetta mission is now orbiting, but only about 0.5 to 1 percent of the size (and about 1/10,000th the mass) of Pluto. As such, PT1 is thought to be like the building blocks of Kuiper Belt planets such as Pluto.

Unlike asteroids, KBOs have been heated only slightly by the Sun, and are thought to represent a well preserved, deep-freeze sample of what the outer was like following its birth 4.6 billion years ago.

"There's so much that we can learn from close-up spacecraft observations that we'll never learn from Earth, as the Pluto flyby demonstrated so spectacularly," said New Horizons science team member John Spencer, also of SwRI. "The detailed images and other data that New Horizons could obtain from a KBO flyby will revolutionize our understanding of the Kuiper Belt and KBOs." The New Horizons spacecraft—currently 3 billion miles [4.9 billion kilometers] from Earth—is just starting to transmit the bulk of the images and other data, stored on its digital recorders, from its historic July encounter with the Pluto system. The spacecraft is healthy and operating normally.

Explore further: NASA's Hubble telescope finds potential Kuiper belt targets for New Horizons Pluto mission

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26 comments

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wduckss
1 / 5 (7) Aug 29, 2015
For visiting this body, it is important to know the speed of rotation around the axis.
Little body equally enslaves even less bodies in orbit around him.
Close Flyby should not be closer to 1 to 2,000 miles.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (10) Aug 29, 2015
When?

Let's see what we got 2014MU69 http://www.minorp...mit=Show
Perihelion 41.7836722 AU
Perihelion date 2069-12-20.28956
Mean daily motion 0.0033546°/day
Semimajor axis 44.1951584 AU
Eccentricity 0.0545645

From the article: 1 billion miles

From New Horizons http://pluto.jhua...ndex.php
Distance from the sun 33.29 AU
Heliocentric velocity 14.49 km/sec

An estimate of the time needed for Hew Horizons to get to 2014MU69.
1600000000 (1 billion miles ) / (14.49 * 60 sec * 60 min * 24 hour * 365.25 days ) = 3.499 years

An estimate of the number of days to perihelion ( when New Horizons will cross 2014MU69's orbit ).
124 ( 2015 ) + 18980 ( 52*365 from 2016 to 2068 ) + 354 (1969 ) + 14 leap days – 1278 ( 3.499 * 365.25 ) = 18194 days

Tbc
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (10) Aug 29, 2015
...

An estimate of the angular distance to perihelion viewed from the center of the elliptical orbit (when New Horizons will cross 2014MU69's orbit ).
If half a period 180° / (0.0033546°/day) = 53658 days
Then at 18194 days to perihelion 2014MU69 is at 61.033°.

Position of the sun relative to the center of the ellipse.
44.1951584 AU (semimajor axis) * 0.0545645 (eccentricity) = 2.4114867 AU

An estimate of the angular distance to perihelion viewed from the sun.
44.1951584 AU (semimajor axis) * cos 61.033° = 21.4039713 AU from central axis and
21.4039713 AU – 2.4114867 AU = 18.9924846 AU from the sun.
arccos(18.9924846 AU / 41.7836722 AU perihelion ) = 62.964°

tbc
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (9) Aug 29, 2015
...

With this angle above we can estimate 2014MU69 distance from the sun lion ( when New Horizons will cross 2014MU69's orbit ), with the formula found on Wikipedia https://en.wikipe...to_focus
Heliocentric distance =
Semimajor axis * ( 1 – eccentricity ² ) / 1 + eccentricity * cos 62.964° = 42.9971484 AU

A second estimate of the time needed for Hew Horizons to get to 2014MU69.
42.9971484 AU – 33.29 AU = 9.7071484 AU = 1452168731km
1452168731km / (14.49 * 60 sec * 60 min * 24 hour ) = 1160 days

A third estimate done using the same method gives
43.0122575 AU – 33.29 AU = 9.7222575 AU = 1454429020 km
1454429020 km / (14.49 * 60 sec * 60 min * 24 hour ) = 1162 days

In conclusion New Horizons is now 1.454 billion km (0.904 billion miles) from 2014MU69 and should meet it at 43.01 AU from the sun on the first week of October 2018.

That is the best estimate I can make
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (9) Aug 29, 2015
TechnoCreed: Thank you. That was as much fun to read as the article itself!
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (8) Aug 29, 2015
Whoops since 2014MU69 will be travelling 2.924729978 AU ( I will not show the maths ) perpendicularly to New Horizons that is going to travel 9.7222575 AU during the same time, the actual distance to 2014MU69 is √ 9.7222575² + 2.924729978² = 10.15265169 AU

Revised conclusion: New Horizons is now 1.519 billion km ( 0.944 billion miles ) from 2014MU69 and should meet it at 43.01 AU from the sun on the first week of October 2018.

TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (6) Aug 29, 2015
TechnoCreed: Thank you. That was as much fun to read as the article itself!

Thanks ! It was fun for me too and the compliment doubled the pleasure :-D
Enthusiastic Fool
5 / 5 (6) Aug 29, 2015
TC delivers. How did you know how to do that?
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (8) Aug 30, 2015
TC delivers. How did you know how to do that?

Just basic knowledge and curiosity; two elements you showed to have plenty of. As I can remember under another article, a few days ago, we did the same kind of mathematic game together. It was great fun too.
JustAnotherGuy
5 / 5 (5) Aug 30, 2015
Let me guess! ... people got bored due to article's lack of "in depth" info. These "refreshed" old news doesn't include enough references I suppose. Fortunately, they labeled the known dwarf planets to show they are out of reach.
Just for fun, Alex Parker's animated image:
https://planetary...f537.gif

Wikipedia's article has been updated ( https://en.wikipe...014_MU69 )
But I found on it that an older reference is the most interesting one: the Hubble's detailed search report.
It explains the search goals, methods, findings and conclusions. Includes many images, a table of discoveries and posible NH trajectories.
For considerations on how this little one was chosen and the work done:
http://www.stsci....zons.pdf
wduckss
1 / 5 (5) Aug 30, 2015
TechnoCreed When? ...

The body that has a spin on its axis can have (and has) other smaller bodies in orbit around it. Rotation speed, determines the number of bodies in orbit and distance from the parent body.

I examined other information about 2014MU69 but data on spinning missing, and in this case is very important. Planning overflight without him is to work at blind.
nkalanaga
4.7 / 5 (6) Aug 30, 2015
Why does spin have anything to do with having smaller objects in orbit? A small object can orbit a larger one whether it spins or not.

New Horizons has good cameras. They'll be looking at the surrounding space throughout approach, and if they see anything, NH has enough fuel to dodge it.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (5) Aug 30, 2015
I have made new calculations with recent data gathered from Hubble recent observation of last June http://www.stsci....4053.pro
Semimajor axis = 44.13910728 AU
Eccentricity = 0.0449707
These data are similar to those found on Wikipedia https://en.wikipe...014_MU69

What came out of it is that New Horizons is now 1.546 billion kilometers (0.961 billion miles) from 2014MU69 and should meet it at 43.167 AU in about 1179 days, so towards the end of October 2018. That is 20 days later than what I found yesterday. I do not think that the small ∆V correction needed will change much about it. I think that the date given on this article come from the first assessment linked by JustAnotherGuy. I think that the NH team will give us the real arrival after the orbital correction.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (4) Aug 30, 2015
Why does spin have anything to do with having smaller objects in orbit? A small object can orbit a larger one whether it spins or not.

New Horizons has good cameras. They'll be looking at the surrounding space throughout approach, and if they see anything, NH has enough fuel to dodge it.

Although the rotation of a body have much more to do with the history of its construction then if it has some satellites, a satellite would not allow a body to be without rotation unless it would be a perfect sphere that would have no density differential.
Jonseer
1 / 5 (6) Aug 30, 2015
What a bust. New Horizons didn't show us anything much more than we knew from Voyager's visit to Triton about ice dwarfs, and now instead of checking out another dwarf planet, they have to settle for a chunk of ice.
JustAnotherGuy
not rated yet Aug 30, 2015
TechnoCreed. Wiki article's reference: http://ssd.jpl.na...2014MU69
Dated Dec 2014, you may consider it for your game. Changed perihelion date.

I don't dare to mess with all those calculus, but allow me to put on considerations some possible reasons why you got earlier dates.

A sumary of your conclusions:
1- Conclusion: 1454 km, 1162 days, date: (!) first week Oct 2018
2- Revised Conclusion: 1519 km, (!) days not specified, date: (!) first week Oct 2018
3- Updated: 1546 km, 1179 days, date: end of Oct 2018

Is it possible there are some missing days there?
For #1: 1162 days means 3 years, 2 months, 1 week. It isn't? From current date it is 1st week Nov 2018.
For #2: more km, same date (!)
For #3: more km, then more days and different date.

If I got it right, your dates should be similar to the currently predicted.
Plus, I noticed that NH's trajectory has a small angle (look from "above") which should delay the meeting by some days.
nkalanaga
4.3 / 5 (6) Aug 30, 2015
TechnoCreed: Rotation: True, if the body has satellites, it will probably rotate, due to tidal forces from the satellite. But the rate of rotation won't tell us much about the (undetected) satellites, because bodies also rotate without them. That was my question about Wduckss' concern about not knowing the rotation rate. In his words, "Rotation speed, determines the number of bodies in orbit and distance from the parent body." As you said, it's the other way around, with the satellites affecting the rotation rate.

I'd be very surprised if we found any body in the Solar System that didn't rotate. That's a natural consequence of most formation scenarios.
NiteSkyGerl
3.4 / 5 (9) Aug 31, 2015
It's not part of the mission target. It's gravy. This is a free lunch. How can you object?
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (4) Aug 31, 2015
I'd be very surprised if we found any body in the Solar System that didn't rotate. That's a natural consequence of most formation scenarios.
Indeed!

JustAnotherGuy
5 / 5 (1) Aug 31, 2015
@nkalanaga. Now that you have better explained it: good point.

@NiteSkyGerl. It was part of the mission:
The 2003 National Academy of Sciences' Planetary Decadal Survey strongly recommended that the first mission to the Kuiper Belt include flybys of Pluto and small KBOs, in order to sample the diversity of objects in that previously unexplored region of the solar system.
Returners
2.4 / 5 (5) Aug 31, 2015
That proposal—due in 2016—will be evaluated by an independent team of experts before NASA can decide about the go-ahead.


Obviously that's just a formality. NASA would be pretty dumb not to approve it with the space craft already on an almost exact course for the object.
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (2) Aug 31, 2015
True, unless someone can find a better target before the evaluation. That seems very unlikely, but isn't impossible.
wduckss
1 / 5 (4) Aug 31, 2015
The rotation of the body is not alone. Rotates and "field" around the body, which covers (up to a certain limit) gravity. He can not "field" stand still - see rotation magnet.
For the mission is important, to know (assume) the bodies in orbit, not to collide with to them.
ScottyB
5 / 5 (4) Sep 02, 2015
love this little craft, just keeps on giving!
AGreatWhopper
4 / 5 (4) Sep 05, 2015
The rotation of the body is not alone. Rotates and "field" around the body, which covers (up to a certain limit) gravity. He can not "field" stand still - see rotation magnet.
For the mission is important, to know (assume) the bodies in orbit, not to collide with to them.


So, you're trying to get some incoherent point across going from what to English, using Google translate? He's not handling your pronouns very well.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Sep 05, 2015
If you want to see a great interest in these frozen rocks, wait until they find one comprised of precious metals.

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