New Horizons Spacecraft was the first probe to fly by and study the dwarf planet Pluto and its moons, Charon, Nix and Hydra and other Kuiper Belt Objects. NASA approved flybys of one or more other Kuiper Belt Objects.
What is New Horizons?
NASA’s New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched, having achieved the highest Earth-relative velocity and thus leaving Earth faster than any other spacecraft to date. It is also the first spacecraft launched directly into a solar escape trajectory.
Facts about New Horizons – Specs
Launch Mass: 478 kg (1,054 lb)
Payload Mass: 30.4 kg (67 lb)
Closest Distance to Pluto: 12,500 km (7,800 miles)
Closest Approach to Pluto: 14 July, 2015, 11:49:57 UTC.
The spacecraft was built primarily by Southwest Research Institute and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). The mission’s principal investigator is Dr. S. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute. APL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
The probe is the first robotic mission in NASA’s New Frontiers mission category, larger and more expensive than Discovery missions but smaller than “flagship” programs.
The New Horizons mission uses a plutonium-powered radioisotope thermoelectric generator for power in deep space, where sunlight isn’t intense enough to run the spacecraft. It’s like the generators that flew in the Cassini probe now at Saturn. In fact, it’s Cassini’s spare.
New Horizons was successfully launched on January 19, 2006. After a flyby of Planet Jupiter on 28 February, 2007, New Horizons arrived at Pluto in July 2015 before leaving the Solar System. It is planned for New Horizons to fly within 10,000 km (6,200 miles) of Pluto.
Already the fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons reached Planet Jupiter just 13 months after lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida in January 2006. The flyby added 9,000 miles per hour, pushing New Horizons past 50,000 miles per hour and setting up a flight by Pluto in July 2015. New Horizons spacecraft provided new data on the Jupiter system, stunning scientists with never-before-seen perspectives of the giant planet’s atmosphere, rings, moons and magnetosphere. Images include the first close-up scans of the Little Red Spot, Jupiter’s second-largest storm, which formed when three smaller storms merged during the past decade. The storm, about half the size of Jupiter’s larger Great Red Spot and about 70 percent of Earth’s diameter, began turning red about a year before New Horizons flew past it.
New Horizons came to within 1.4 million miles of Jupiter on 28 February, 2007 using the planet’s gravity to trim three years off its travel time to Pluto. For several weeks before and after this closest approach, the piano-sized robotic probe trained its seven cameras and sensors on Jupiter and its four largest moons, storing data from nearly 700 observations on its digital recorders and gradually sending that information back to Earth.
How Close did New Horizons flyby Pluto?
How long has New Horizons been in space?
New Horizons has been in space since 2006. It flew past Pluto in July 2015 and is now in the Kuiper Belt.
Did you know?
When the spacecraft was launched, Pluto was still classified as a planet, later to be reclassified as a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in August 2006.
Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in 1930. His ashes are carried aboard the New Horizons spacecraft.
New Horizon Spacecraft and Mission Links
- New Horizons: An unmanned Pluto-Kuiper Belt probe study. Includes mission details and educational resources. Includes where to find New Horizons and its distance from Pluto.
- NASA New Horizons:
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