NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft to Prepare for Trip to Pluto

The Hubble Space Telescope’s best view of the distant icy dwarf planet Pluto. New Horizons will soon have a ringside seat. (PHOTO CREDIT: NASA/ESA/Southwest Research Institute)
The Hubble Space Telescope’s best view of the distant icy dwarf planet Pluto. New Horizons will soon have a ringside seat. (PHOTO CREDIT: NASA/ESA/Southwest Research Institute)

NASA’s New Horizons robotic spacecraft will get a wake-up call at 3 p.m. EST Saturday to begin preparing for a long-anticipated study of Pluto.

Since its launch in January 2006, New Horizons has spent the bulk of its journey through the solar system in hibernation, saving wear and tear on its electronics and eliminating the need for a large and ongoing team of flight controllers.

Now about 2.9 billion miles from Earth, New Horizons will end its electronic slumber and get ready to begin surveying the icy dwarf planet Pluto and its entourage of moons mid-January.

Closest approach comes on July 14 when New Horizons passes within 6,200 miles of Pluto.

About 90 minutes after New Horizons’ alarm clock goes off, the spacecraft is expected to send a radio signal back to Earth that it is in “active” mode. Traveling at light-speed, the signal will take nearly 4.5 hours to reach Earth. The spacecraft will be about 162 million miles from Pluto.

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SOURCE: Discovery News
Irene Klotz