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New Horizons - something to look forward to


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It is still early days for the New Horizon mission to Pluto but I still felt like reminding everyone of how exciting this project is:

The mission:

As the first spacecraft to visit Pluto and its moon Charon, New Horizons looks to unlock one of the solar system's last, great planetary secrets. The New Horizons spacecraft will cross the entire span of the solar system and conduct flyby studies of Pluto and Charon in 2015. The seven science instruments on the piano-sized probe will shed light on the bodies' surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres.

Mission Milestones

February 2007 Jupiter gravity assist

March 2007 - June 2015 Interplanetary cruise

July 2015 Pluto-Charon encounter

2016-2020 Kuiper Belt objects encounter

The craft:

Spacecraft instruments are selected to meet a mission's science goals. On New Horizons, for example, NASA set out a list of things it (and the planetary science community) wanted to know about Pluto: What is its atmosphere made of, and how does it behave? What does the surface of Pluto look like? Are there big geological structures? How do particles ejected from the sun (known as the solar wind) interact with Pluto's atmosphere?

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The New Horizons team selected instruments that not only would directly measure NASA's items of interest, but also provide backup to other instruments on the spacecraft should one fail during the mission.

The science payload includes seven instruments:

Ralph: Visible and infrared imager/spectrometer; provides color, composition and thermal maps.

Alice: Ultraviolet imaging spectrometer; analyzes composition and structure of Pluto's atmosphere and looks for atmospheres around Charon and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).

REX: (Radio Science EXperiment) Measures atmospheric composition and temperature; passive radiometer.

LORRI: (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) telescopic camera; obtains encounter data at long distances, maps Pluto's farside and provides high resolution geologic data.

SWAP: (Solar Wind Around Pluto) Solar wind and plasma spectrometer; measures atmospheric "escape rate" and observes Pluto's interaction with solar wind.

PEPSSI: (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) Energetic particle spectrometer; measures the composition and density of plasma (ions) escaping from Pluto's atmosphere.

SDC: (Student Dust Counter) Built and operated by students; measures the space dust peppering New Horizons during its voyage across the solar system.

The launch:

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Where is she now?

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