| | Published 23 January 2006 Liftoff! New Horizons is Pluto-bound
The first mission to distant planet Pluto is under way after the launch Jan. 19 of NASAs New
Horizons spacecraft from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
New Horizons - designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory - roared into the afternoon sky
aboard a powerful Atlas V rocket at 2 p.m. It separated from its solid-fuel kick motor 44 minutes,
53 seconds after launch, and mission controllers at APL in Laurel, Md., received the first radio signals
from New Horizons a little more than five minutes later. The radio communications, sent through
NASAs Deep Space Network antennas in Canberra, Australia, confirmed to controllers that the
spacecraft was healthy and ready to begin initial operations.
The APL-built New Horizons spacecraft lifts off
from Cape Canaveral on its 3 billion-mile
journey to Pluto. Photo by: NASA/KSC
The launch, originally scheduled for Jan. 17, had been twice delayed by adverse weather conditions.
This is the gateway to a long, exciting journey, said Glen Fountain, New Horizons project
manager from APL. The team has worked hard for the past four years to get the spacecraft
ready for the voyage to Pluto and beyond, to places weve never seen up close. This is a
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, in the tradition of the Mariner, Pioneer and Voyager missions, to set
out for first looks in our solar system.
The 1,054-pound, piano-sized spacecraft is the fastest ever launched, speeding away from Earth at
approximately 36,000 miles per hour on a trajectory that will take it more than 3 billion miles toward
its primary science target. New Horizons will zip past Jupiter for a gravity assist and science
studies in February 2007 and then conduct the first close-up, in-depth study of Pluto and its moons in
summer 2015. As part of a potential extended mission, the spacecraft would then examine one or
more additional objects in the Kuiper Belt, the region of ancient, icy, rocky bodies (including Pluto)
far beyond Neptunes orbit.
The United States of America has just made history by launching the first spacecraft to explore
Pluto and the Kuiper Belt beyond, said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, from
Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. No other nation has this capability.
This is the kind of exploration that forefathers, like Lewis and Clark 200 years ago this year, made a
trademark of our nation.
Over the next several weeks, mission operators at APL will place the spacecraft in flight mode, check
out its critical operating systems and perform small propulsive maneuvers to refine its path toward
Jupiter. Following that, among other operations, the team will begin checking and commissioning
most of the seven science instruments.
After the Jupiter encounter - during which New Horizons will train its science instruments on the large
planet and its moons - the spacecraft will sleep in electronic hibernation for much of the
cruise to Pluto. Operators will turn off all but the most critical electronic systems and check in
with the spacecraft once a year to assess the critical systems, calibrate the instruments and perform
course corrections, if necessary.
Between the in-depth checkouts, New Horizons will send back a beacon signal each week to give operators
an instant read on spacecraft health. The entire spacecraft, drawing electricity from a single
radioisotope thermoelectric generator, operates on less power than a pair of 100-watt household light
New Horizons is the first mission in NASAs New Frontiers Program of medium-class spacecraft
exploration projects. Stern leads the mission and science team as principal investigator.
APL manages the mission for NASAs Science Mission Directorate and is operating the spacecraft in
flight. The mission team also includes Ball Aerospace Corp., the Boeing Co., NASA Goddard Space
Flight Center, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Stanford University, KinetX, Inc., Lockheed Martin Corp.,
University of Colorado, U.S. Department of Energy and a number of other firms, NASA centers and
university partners. NASAs Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center was responsible
for the launch.
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