New Horizons

New Horizons
New Horizons Transparent.png
New Horizons space probe
Mission typeFlyby
(Jupiter · Pluto · 69)
Mission durationPrimary mission: 9.5 years
Elapsed: 13 years, 5 months, 2 days
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerAPL / SwRI
Launch mass478 kg (1,054 lb)
Dry mass401 kg (884 lb)
Payload mass30.4 kg (67 lb)
Dimensions2.2 × 2.1 × 2.7 m (7.2 × 6.9 × 8.9 ft)
Power245 watts
Start of mission
Launch dateJanuary 19, 2006, 19:00 (2006-01-19UTC19) UTC
RocketAtlas V (551) AV-010
Launch siteCape Canaveral SLC-41
ContractorInternational Launch Services[1]
Orbital parameters
Argument of periapsis293.445°
EpochJanuary 1, 2017 (JD 2457754.5)[2]
Flyby of (132524) APL (incidental)
Closest approachJune 13, 2006, 04:05 UTC
Distance101,867 km (63,297 mi)
Flyby of Jupiter (gravity assist)
Closest approachFebruary 28, 2007, 05:43:40 UTC
Distance2,300,000 km (1,400,000 mi)
Flyby of Pluto
Closest approachJuly 14, 2015, 11:49:57 UTC
Distance12,500 km (7,800 mi)
Flyby of 69
Closest approachJanuary 1, 2019, 05:33:00 UTC
Distance3,500 km (2,200 mi)
New Horizons - Logo2 big.png
Juno →

New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as a part of NASA's New Frontiers program.[3] Engineered by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), with a team led by S. Alan Stern,[4] the spacecraft was launched in 2006 with the primary mission to perform a flyby study of the Pluto system in 2015, and a secondary mission to fly by and study one or more other Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) in the decade to follow, which as of 2019 includes 69.[5][6][7][8][9] It is the fifth space probe to achieve the escape velocity needed to leave the Solar System.

On January 19, 2006, New Horizons was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by an Atlas V rocket directly into an Earth-and-solar escape trajectory with a speed of about 16.26 km/s (10.10 mi/s; 58,500 km/h; 36,400 mph). It was the fastest man-made object ever launched from Earth.[10][11][12][13] After a brief encounter with asteroid 132524 APL, New Horizons proceeded to Jupiter, making its closest approach on February 28, 2007, at a distance of 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles). The Jupiter flyby provided a gravity assist that increased New Horizons' speed; the flyby also enabled a general test of New Horizons' scientific capabilities, returning data about the planet's atmosphere, moons, and magnetosphere.

Most of the post-Jupiter voyage was spent in hibernation mode to preserve on-board systems, except for brief annual checkouts.[14] On December 6, 2014, New Horizons was brought back online for the Pluto encounter, and instrument check-out began.[15] On January 15, 2015, the spacecraft began its approach phase to Pluto.

On July 14, 2015, at 11:49 UTC, it flew 12,500 km (7,800 mi) above the surface of Pluto,[16][17] making it the first spacecraft to explore the dwarf planet.[8][18] On October 25, 2016, at 21:48 UTC, the last of the recorded data from the Pluto flyby was received from New Horizons.[19] Having completed its flyby of Pluto,[20] New Horizons then maneuvered for a flyby of Kuiper belt object 69 "Ultima Thule",[21][22][23] which occurred on January 1, 2019,[24][25] when it was 43.4 AU from the Sun.[21][22] In August 2018, NASA cited results by Alice on New Horizons to confirm the existence of a "hydrogen wall" at the outer edges of the Solar System. This "wall" was first detected in 1992 by the two Voyager spacecraft.[26][27]


USPS stamp issued in 1991 that served as motivation for planetary scientists to send a probe to Pluto
Early concept art of the New Horizons spacecraft. The mission, led by the Applied Physics Laboratory and Alan Stern, eventually became the first mission to Pluto.

In August 1992, JPL scientist Robert Staehle called Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh, requesting permission to visit his planet. "I told him he was welcome to it," Tombaugh later remembered, "though he's got to go one long, cold trip."[28] The call eventually led to a series of proposed Pluto missions, leading up to New Horizons.

Stamatios "Tom" Krimigis, head of the Applied Physics Laboratory's space division, one of many entrants in the New Frontiers Program competition, formed the New Horizons team with Alan Stern in December 2000. Appointed as the project's principal investigator, Stern was described by Krimigis as "the personification of the Pluto mission".[29] New Horizons was based largely on Stern's work since Pluto 350 and involved most of the team from Pluto Kuiper Express.[30] The New Horizons proposal was one of five that were officially submitted to NASA. It was later selected as one of two finalists to be subject to a three-month concept study, in June 2001. The other finalist, POSSE (Pluto and Outer Solar System Explorer), was a separate, but similar Pluto mission concept by the University of Colorado Boulder, led by principal investigator Larry W. Esposito, and supported by the JPL, Lockheed Martin and the University of California.[31] However, the APL, in addition to being supported by Pluto Kuiper Express developers at the Goddard Space Flight Center and Stanford University,[31] were at an advantage; they had recently developed NEAR Shoemaker for NASA, which had successfully entered orbit around 433 Eros earlier in the year, and would later land on the asteroid to scientific and engineering fanfare.[32]

In November 2001, New Horizons was officially selected for funding as part of the New Frontiers program.[33] However, the new NASA Administrator appointed by the Bush Administration, Sean O'Keefe, was not supportive of New Horizons, and effectively cancelled it by not including it in NASA's budget for 2003. NASA's Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate Ed Weiler prompted Stern to lobby for the funding of New Horizons in hopes of the mission appearing in the Planetary Science Decadal Survey; a prioritized "wish list", compiled by the United States National Research Council, that reflects the opinions of the scientific community. After an intense campaign to gain support for New Horizons, the Planetary Science Decadal Survey of 2003–2013 was published in the summer of 2002. New Horizons topped the list of projects considered the highest priority among the scientific community in the medium-size category; ahead of missions to the Moon, and even Jupiter. Weiler stated that it was a result that "[his] administration was not going to fight".[29] Funding for the mission was finally secured following the publication of the report, and Stern's team were finally able to start building the spacecraft and its instruments, with a planned launch in January 2006 and arrival at Pluto in 2015.[29] Alice Bowman became Mission Operations Manager.[34]

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