Countdown! Just under one year from now, the New Horizons will finally reach its mission goal after sailing through the solar system for the better part of a decade. It will fly by the dwarf planet Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015, showing us the surface of these distant bodies for the very first time.
And the New Horizon’s team reported a thruster burn yesterday has put the spacecraft right on course to correct the spacecraft’s arrival time – a year from now – at the precisely intended aim point at Pluto.
The spacecraft fired its thrusters for just under 88 seconds, which sped the craft up by about 3.8 km/h (2.4 miles per hour.)
“If we hadn’t performed this maneuver, we would have arrived at Pluto about 36 minutes later than we wanted to,” said Mark Holdridge, New Horizons encounter mission manager. “Making the adjustment now means we won’t have to perform a bigger maneuver – and use more of the spacecraft’s fuel – down the road.”
“It was a great burn, performed flawlessly” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator. “You could say that New Horizons just lit a little candle for its one year out anniversary.”
It was the spacecraft’s sixth course correction maneuver since launch in January 2006, and the first since 2010.
“Pluto gets closer by the day, and New Horizons continues into rare territory, as just the fifth probe to traverse interplanetary space so far from the sun,” said NASA on the New Horizon’s website. “And the first ever to travel to Pluto.”
It’ll be a treat to see what the dwarf planet looks like after so many tantalizing glimpses by the Hubble Space Telescope and New Horizons spacecraft itself (see this story from last week for some views.) Happy sailing!