Published On: Sat, Aug 29th, 2015

NASA Selects Potential Kuiper Belt Target for New Horizons

Artist’s sense of NASA’s New Horizons booster encountering a Pluto-like intent in a apart Kuiper Belt. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

NASA scientists have comparison a tiny Kuiper Belt intent (KBO) famous as 2014 MU69 as a subsequent intensity end for a New Horizons mission. 2014 MU69 orbits scarcely a billion miles over Pluto.

This remote KBO was one of dual identified as intensity destinations and a one endorsed to NASA by a New Horizons team. Although NASA has comparison 2014 MU69 as a target, as partial of a normal examination routine a group will control a minute comment before strictly commendatory a goal prolongation to control additional science.

“Even as a New Horizon’s booster speeds divided from Pluto out into a Kuiper Belt, and a information from a sparkling confront with this new universe is being streamed behind to Earth, we are looking external to a subsequent end for this courageous explorer,” pronounced John Grunsfeld, wanderer and arch of a NASA Science Mission Directorate during a group domicile in Washington. “While discussions either to approve this extended goal will take place in a incomparable context of a heavenly scholarship portfolio, we design it to be most reduction costly than a primary goal while still providing new and sparkling science.”

Like all NASA missions that have finished their categorical design though find to do some-more exploration, a New Horizons group contingency write a offer to a group to account a KBO mission. That offer – due in 2016 – will be evaluated by an eccentric group of experts before NASA can confirm about a go-ahead.

Early aim preference was important; a group needs to approach New Horizons toward a intent this year in sequence to perform any extended goal with healthy fuel margins. New Horizons will perform a array of 4 maneuvers in late Oct and early Nov to set a march toward 2014 MU69 – nicknamed “PT1” (for “Potential Target 1”) – that it expects to strech on Jan 1, 2019. Any delays from those dates would cost changed fuel and supplement goal risk.

“2014 MU69 is a good choice given it is usually a kind of ancient KBO, shaped where it orbits now, that a Decadal Survey preferred us to fly by,” pronounced New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of a Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “Moreover, this KBO costs reduction fuel to strech [than other claimant targets], withdrawal some-more fuel for a flyby, for subordinate science, and incomparable fuel pot to strengthen opposite a unforeseen.”

New Horizons was creatively designed to fly over a Pluto complement and try additional Kuiper Belt objects. The booster carries additional hydrazine fuel for a KBO flyby; a communications complement is designed to work from distant over Pluto; a energy complement is designed to work for many some-more years; and a systematic instruments were designed to work in light levels most reduce than it will knowledge during a 2014 MU69 flyby.”

The 2003 National Academy of Sciences’ Planetary Decadal Survey (“New Frontiers in a Solar System”) strongly endorsed that a initial goal to a Kuiper Belt embody flybys of Pluto and tiny KBOs, in sequence to representation a farrago of objects in that formerly unexplored segment of a solar system. The marker of PT1, that is in a totally opposite category of KBO than Pluto, potentially allows New Horizons to prove those goals.

But anticipating a suitable KBO flyby aim was no easy task. Starting a hunt in 2011 regulating some of a largest ground-based telescopes on Earth, a New Horizons group found several dozen KBOs, though nothing were reachable within a fuel supply accessible aboard a spacecraft.

The absolute Hubble Space Telescope came to a rescue in summer 2014, finding 5 objects, given narrowed to two, within New Horizons’ moody path. Scientists guess that PT1 is usually underneath 30 miles (about 45 kilometers) across; that’s some-more than 10 times incomparable and 1,000 times some-more large than standard comets, like a one a Rosetta goal is now orbiting, though usually about 0.5 to 1 percent of a distance (and about 1/10,000th a mass) of Pluto. As such, PT1 is suspicion to be like a building blocks of Kuiper Belt planets such as Pluto.

Path of NASA’s New Horizons booster toward a subsequent intensity target, a Kuiper Belt intent 2014 MU69, nicknamed “PT1” (for “Potential Target 1”) by a New Horizons team. NASA contingency approve any New Horizons extended goal to try a KBO. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

Unlike asteroids, KBOs have been exhilarated usually somewhat by a Sun, and are suspicion to paint a good preserved, deep-freeze representation of what a outdoor solar complement was like following a birth 4.6 billion years ago.

“There’s so most that we can learn from close-up booster observations that we’ll never learn from Earth, as a Pluto flyby demonstrated so spectacularly,” pronounced New Horizons scholarship group member John Spencer, also of SwRI. “The minute images and other information that New Horizons could obtain from a KBO flyby will change a bargain of a Kuiper Belt and KBOs.”

The New Horizons booster – now 3 billion miles [4.9 billion kilometers] from Earth – is usually starting to broadcast a bulk of a images and other data, stored on a digital recorders, from a ancestral Jul confront with a Pluto system. The booster is healthy and handling normally.

Source: NASA

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