New Horizons Phones Home

Following this mornings flyby of Pluto the New Horizons spacecraft has phoned home. And tomorrow morning it will starting returning the high priority data from its numerous observations.

Atlas_V_551_roars_into_blue_skyThe spacecraft which was launched in Jan, 2006 has traveled more than 3.2 billion miles to reach the Pluto system, during the 9.5 years of travel most of it was spent alone in deep space in hibernation, occasionally the mission team would wake it up to check out the systems.

At the end of last year the spacecraft woke up to begin checkouts in preparation for the flyby operations which begun in Jan this year. As the spacecraft approached the Pluto system the LORRI instrument took images to allow the navigation team to check its approach and make any corrections needed so that they could arrive in the target window just 90 x 60 miles in size. To put that in perspective, that is like hitting a golf ball on the east coast of the USA with the intention of getting a hole in one on the west coast.

During the flyby the spacecraft operated in autonomous mode where it focused solely on the completion of the observations that had been pre-programmed once those were complete it turned its main antenna back to Earth and started to transmit its data.

It may be many years before all the data that is returned by New Horizons is fully analyzed and the text books written on the planet.

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