A replay of “Waking Up On Pluto’s Doorstep: New Horizons Comes Out of Hibernation” by The Planetary Society.
The Planetary Society show was held while waiting for the signal from New Horizons saying it had awakened and is powering up onboard systems. In the meantime (before and after) there is a great discussion of the Deep Space Network and tweeted questions including one I had myself: What about unknown objects the spacecraft may encounter? Pluto has five moons (distance ordered): Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra, there could be many objects we can not detect.
A brief discussion about what happens after the Pluto encounter is over, hint: it’s not over for New Horizons.
New Horizons powers systems up and comes out of hibernation for the home stretch of its journey. Wake up is scheduled for 15:00 EST / 20:00 UTC today (06 Dec 2014). If power up is successful New Horizons will transmit a radio signal back to Earth. It will take 4.5 hours for the radio signal to reach us.
The moon Charon orbiting Pluto at a distance of 18,000 km / 11,200 miles from the New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
A nice animation of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon in orbit around Pluto. The animation was made in July 2014 from 12 images taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. At the time of the photos New Horizons was closing in quickly on Pluto. The distance to the Plutonian system ranged from 429 million to 422 million km (or 267 million to 262 million miles) in the time it took to take the images. Shortly after this set of images was taken New Horizons went back into a hibernation mode, the last one.
On Saturday (06 Dec 2014) at 15:00 EST / 20:00 UTC, the instruments on the New Horizons spacecraft will be switched on as the craft comes out of hibernation and gets ready to do some serious science!
The first thing on the agenda is, as you might guess, telling mission control it is alive and well and in “active” mode. The transmission from New Horizons is scheduled to occur 90 minutes after the spacecraft wakes up, so that will be at 16:30 EST / 21:30 UTC. When will we hear the good news signal? Not until 4 hours and 25 minutes later, it takes that long for radio signals to travel the 4.7 billion km / 2.9 billion miles from New Horizons at the speed of light!
A long way from home and closing in on the prize. The spacecraft will be just 162 million miles from Pluto when it wakes up.
By the way if you notice a wobble in the image above, it occurs because Charon is a very large moon compared to Pluto and they orbit around their common center of gravity – the barycenter.
Neptune and Triton from the New Horizons spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
A look at Neptune and one of its moons Triton from New Horizons spacecraft on 10 July 2014. When the image was taken, New Horizons had not crossed the orbit of Neptune. At the orbit crossing New Horizons was actually closer to Pluto than Neptune.
See the non-annotated version here.
Coming up very soon, on 06 December 2015 New Horizons will exit sleep mode for the last time. The spacecraft has periodically gone in and out of sleep mode so there shouldn’t be any surprises. From then on the spacecraft will be fully awake and very shortly after will start taking science data. We should get some tantalizing views of the Plutonian system from the same camera that took the one above: New Horizons telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).
Flight controllers Mike Conner and Josh Albers, in the New Horizons Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, await the signal confirming the spacecraft’s entry into hibernation on August 29; (inset) mission operations manager Alice Bowman keeps an eye on spacecraft telemetry and the communications link between New Horizons and NASA’s Deep Space Network. Image and caption: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/NASA/JPL
Shortly after crossing the Neptune orbit New Horizons mission controllers at Johns Hopkins University put the New Horizons spacecraft down for a nap. This period of hibernation will be the last in the mission.
Mission managers verified a sucessful entry into hibernation at 13:21 UT 29 August. This part of the mission comes after a 10-week check of the spacecraft systems “The checkout went very well,” says Chris Hersman, New Horizons mission systems engineer from APL. “The spacecraft is healthy and in great shape to begin Pluto encounter activities in early 2015.”
The spacecraft was more than 4,425,696,000 km (4.426 billion) or 2,750,000,000 miles (2.75 billion) from Earth when the commands were sent. It takes over four hours for commands to reach the spacecraft, thankfully the Deep Space Network was up to the task.
One of the commands during the hibernation sequence is to point the New Horizons main antenna where Earth will be the next time the spacecraft wakes up so data about the condition of the spacecraft will be immediatly available.
The scheduled wake up date is 07 December 2014 and “Distant-encounter” operations at Pluto to begin 04 January 2015.
New Horizons mission site.
Pluto and Charon from New Horizons. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
The New Horizons spacecraft captured this “movie” consisting of 12 images showing Pluto and the moon Charon. Those 12 images, taken between 19 and 24 July so almost one full orbit of Pluto and Charon, from 429 million to 422 million km / 267 million to 262 million miles using the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). This set of images was taken with the New Horizons spacecraft 10 times closer to Pluto than we are here on Earth.
Notice the wobble? Pluto and Charon are binary, really a binary planet system and they orbit each other around the center of mass (called the barycenter) which is between the two. The LORRI is set to the barycenter.
Charon is orbiting about 18,000 km / 11,200 miles from Pluto.
New Horizons will cross the Neptune orbit in just over a week and will fly by the Pluto system in less than a year with approach operations to begin in just a few months.
Visit the New Horizons site for the original images.
Only a year before we arrive at Pluto.
Only? Don’t worry there is so much going on in space science the time will pass quickly I think. Next up Rosetta and if you have not seen the new animation of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko do check it out. Weird shape, kind of like a boot, we will see a clear image shortly. Is it one chunk or two stuck together?
New Horizons: On the Space Frontier
Glad to hear anything about New Horizons as I patiently wait out the long journey.
This is Part 1 “The Encounter Begins”
A dress rehearsal for the encounter with Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft.
We have an update from the New Horizons mission, more of a time line of what will be happening. Not many updates come our way and for good reason (I am not in any way complaining mind you), we are in a waiting phase. Consider the spacecraft is moving at almost 1 million miles a day and LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) will only see Pluto and the largest of the five known moons, Charron, as mere “fat” pixels a whole year from now and the spacecraft has been traveling nearly eight years already.
By the time of close approach in July 2015, LORRI would be able to see buildings if it was looking at Earth at the same distance. That’s the plan right now.
The video below is from Science@NASA and is followed by the press release. You can see the video at the YouTube site for Science@NASA.
One of the fastest spacecraft ever built — NASA’s New Horizons — is hurtling through the void at nearly one million miles per day. Launched in 2006, it has been in flight longer than some missions last, and it is nearing its destination: Pluto.
“The encounter begins next January,” says Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute and the mission’s principal investigator. “We’re less than a year away.”