Currently, SNAFD is executing the navigation of two missions for NASAs Exploration Systems
division. These are the MESSENGER mission to Mercury and the New Horizons mission to Pluto. Both
missions have launched, with MESSENGER underway since August 2, 2004, and New Horizons since January 19,
2006. KinetX Aerospace is the only organization besides Caltechs JPL to navigate an interplanetary
mission. On each mission, KinetX Aerospace works very closely with and for Mission Operations at the Johns
Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
The MESSENGER mission is the first exploration of Mercury since Mariner 10,
42 years ago. Mariner 10 discovered a
magnetic field around Mercury, the only planet besides Earth of the rocky planets Mars,
Earth, Venus and Mercury to possess such a field. In order to study this and other aspects of
the innermost planet of the solar system, the mission plan entails sending MESSENGER into orbit around
Mercury for one year. To avoid the immense gravity of the Sun, MESSENGER will approach Mercury in a
tangential manner, with several intermediate planetary flybys, including Earth, Venus and Mercury
itself. This approach, the most complex trajectory ever devised for interplanetary travel, will allow
MESSENGER to slip into orbit around the Sun-baked planet.
New Horizons is the first-ever mission to Pluto and will study the composition and atmosphere of
Pluto and its moon, Charon. In addition, New Horizons intends to search for Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs)
in a region beyond Pluto. KBOs that have been dragged into orbits that pass very close to the Sun are
thought by some astronomers to account for certain comets that visit the earth periodically, such as
Halleys. New Horizons data is intended to tell astronomers whether Pluto itself is perhaps a KBO
that has been drawn out of the Kuiper Belt.