Hubble Paved the Way for the New Horizons Mission to Pluto and Ultima Thule

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope discovered the next target for the New Horizons spacecraft — 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule — in June 2014. Seen in these five overlaid images, the object resides more than one billion miles beyond Pluto in the frigid outer reaches of the Kuiper Belt. New Horizons will reach Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day 2019. (Credit: NASA/STScI/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — Years before a team of researchers proposed a mission called New Horizons to explore the dwarf planet Pluto, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope had already made initial observations of the world at the dim outer fringes of our celestial neighborhood. Over many years, Hubble’s pioneering observations repeatedly accomplished what ground-based telescopes could not — imaging features on Pluto’s surface, finding new Plutonian moons, and tracking down a destination to visit after Pluto — an even tinier, icy object in a vast region of small worlds beyond the orbit of Neptune called the Kuiper Belt.

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Send a Message to New Horizons


After a stellar flyby on Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons is set to make the first flyby of Kuiper belt object on New Year’s Eve as it zips past Ultima Thule. Now you can beam a greeting to the plucky probe that’s four billion miles from home at this website. Don’t delay. It’s a limited-time offer.

“Chasing New Horizons” Gets to the Heart of Mysterious Pluto

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Chasing New Horizons: Insider the Epic First Mission to Pluto
by Alan Stern and David Grinspoon
Picador, 2018
hardcover, 320 pp., illus.
ISBN 978-1-250-09896-2
US$28.00

As America celebrated Independence Day on July 4, 2015, many members of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) team that had guiding NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft toward the first ever exploration of Pluto took a little time off to relax before their lives became very busy.

After a 9.5-year long journey, the spacecraft was only 10 days out from its closest approach to the mysterious dwarf planet. All the secrets Pluto had kept hidden for 85 years since Clyde Tombaugh discovered in 1930 were about to be revealed.

And then the unthinkable happened. Controllers suddenly lost contact with the spacecraft as they were loading the final software needed to guide it through week-long flyby sequence set to begin in only three days. When communications were restored, controllers discovered to its horror that the program and all the supporting files they had spent months uploading had been wiped from the spacecraft’s computer.

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Charon Discovered 40 Years Ago

Forty years after his important discovery, Jim Christy holds two of the telescope images he used to spot Pluto’s large moon Charon in June 1978. A close-up photo of Charon, taken by the New Horizons spacecraft during its July 2015 flyby, is displayed on his computer screen. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Art Howard/GHSPi)

New Horizons Team Celebrates Four Decades of Discovery on Pluto’s Large, Amazing Moon

Laurel, Md. (JHUAPL PR) — The largest of Pluto’s five moons, Charon, was discovered 40 years ago today by James Christy and Robert Harrington at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona – only about six miles from where Pluto itself was discovered at Lowell Observatory. They weren’t even looking for satellites of Pluto – Christy was trying to refine Pluto’s orbit around the Sun.

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Alan Stern to Visit Mojave to Talk About “Chasing New Horizons”

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern celebrates a Guinness World Record certificate on July 19 at U.S. Postal Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Dan Afzal, U.S. Postal Service)

MOJAVE, Calif. (MASP PR) — Alan Stern will be at the Stuart O. Witt Event Center at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 from 4:00 pm – 5:00 p.m. promoting his new book, “Chasing New Horizons”. He will speak for around 30 minutes and then will chat and sign books.

Seating is limited. If you plan to attend, Please RSVP to info@mojaveairport.com no later than Thursday, June 7th.

Missions to Moon, Mars, Mercury & More Set for 2018

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

Updated with SpaceX’s Red Tesla launch.

An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.

NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.

And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars.
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Fly Over Pluto with this Amazing Video

Video Caption: Using actual New Horizons data and digital elevation models of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, mission scientists have created flyover movies that offer spectacular new perspectives of the many unusual features that were discovered and which have reshaped our views of the Pluto system – from a vantage point even closer than the spacecraft itself.

This dramatic Pluto flyover begins over the highlands to the southwest of the great expanse of nitrogen ice plain informally named Sputnik Planitia. The viewer first passes over the western margin of Sputnik, where it borders the dark, cratered terrain of Cthulhu Macula, with the blocky mountain ranges located within the plains seen on the right. The tour moves north past the rugged and fractured highlands of Voyager Terra and then turns southward over Pioneer Terra — which exhibits deep and wide pits — before concluding over the bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa in the far east of the encounter hemisphere.

Digital mapping and rendering were performed by Paul Schenk and John Blackwell of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

NIAC Projects Target Mars, Venus & Pluto

Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump mission. (Credit: Benjamin Goldman)

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

An airship for Mars, two spacecraft capable of exploring the hellish environment of Venus, and a fusion-powered orbiter and lander for Pluto are three of the planetary-related research projects recently funded by theNASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

In all, NIAC funded eight advanced projects focused on Mars, Venus and Pluto in its latest annual funding round. The space agency also funded two proposals aimed at identifying and extracting resources on planets, moons and asteroids.
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NIAC Phase I Award: Pluto Hop, Skip & Jump

Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump mission. (Credit: Benjamin Goldman)

Pluto Hop, Skip, and Jump

Benjamin Goldman
Global Aerospace Corporation
Irwindale, Calif.

Value: Approximately $125,000
Length of Study: 9 months

Description

Imagine a craft that could enter Pluto’s atmosphere at 14 km/s and deliver a 200 kg lander to the surface using aerodynamic drag and just a few kg of propellant.

Pluto’s surface pressure is just 10 millionths of Earth’s, but its atmosphere is about 7 times higher than Earth’s and its volume is about 350 times the volume of Pluto itself. Over a several hundred kilometer entry distance, this ultra-low ballistic coefficient craft can dissipate over 99.999% of its initial kinetic energy, resulting in a terminal velocity comparable to or less than past planetary landers or rovers.

With this architecture, the total propellant requirement for landing on Pluto is less than 3.5 kg! After making science measurements at its initial landing site, the lander switches to “hopper” mode, taking advantage of the low gravitational acceleration (0.063 gee) and a modest propellant store to literally hop, skip, and jump around the surface, sometimes kilometers at a time, investigating features of interest.

The proposed concept would enable in-situ surface science at Pluto with low overall mass, a reasonable cost, and in a timeframe of about 10-15 years.

Full List of 2017 NIAC Awards

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NIAC Funds Advanced Propulsion Projects

Mach Effects for In Space Propulsion: Interstellar Mission. (Credit: Heidi Fearn)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently funded six proposals focused on futuristic propulsion systems for missions to Pluto, Venus and other solar systems.

There were four Phase I proposals that are worth approximately $125,000 apiece over nine months. NIAC also funded two Phase II proposals that are worth $500,000 each for two-year investigations.

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NIAC Phase II Award: Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander

Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander (Credit: Stephanie Thomas)

Fusion-Enabled Pluto Orbiter and Lander

Stephanie Thomas
Princeton Satellite Systems, Inc.
Plainsboro, NJ

Amount: up to $500,000
Length of Study: 2 years

Description

The Direct Fusion Drive (DFD) concept provides game-changing propulsion and power capabilities that would revolutionize interplanetary travel. DFD is based on the Princeton Field-Reversed Configuration (PFRC) fusion reactor under development at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

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New Horizons Returns Last Bits of 2015 Pluto Flyby Data to Earth

This high-resolution image captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). The bright expanse is the western lobe of the “heart,” informally called Sputnik Planum, which has been found to be rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
This high-resolution image captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). The bright expanse is the western lobe of the “heart,” informally called Sputnik Planum, which has been found to be rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide and methane ices. (Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

LAUREL, Md. (NASA PR) — Having traveled from the New Horizons spacecraft over 3.4 billion miles, or 5.5 billion kilometers (five hours, eight minutes at light speed), the final item – a segment of a Pluto-Charon observation sequence taken by the Ralph/LEISA imager – arrived at mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, at 5:48 a.m. EDT on Oct. 25. The downlink came via NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia. It was the last of the 50-plus total gigabits of Pluto system data transmitted to Earth by New Horizons over the past 15 months.

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New Horizons Pluto Stamp Earns Guinness World Record

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern celebrates a Guinness World Record certificate on July 19 at U.S. Postal Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Dan Afzal, U.S. Postal Service)
New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern celebrates a Guinness World Record certificate on July 19 at U.S. Postal Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Dan Afzal, U.S. Postal Service)

WASHINGTON (USPS PR) — A 1991 Pluto: Not Yet Explored stamp traveled more than 3 billion miles on a spacecraft to the dwarf planet has earned the Guiness World Records achievement for the farthest distance traveled by a postage stamp. The stamp also served as NASA’s rallying cry to set the record straight for exploring Pluto.

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Alan Stern Awarded NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, CO., left, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) Director Ralph Semmel, center, and New Horizons Co-Investigator Will Grundy Lowell Observatory hold a print of an U.S. stamp with their suggested update since the New Horizons spacecraft has explored Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, CO., left, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) Director Ralph Semmel, center, and New Horizons Co-Investigator Will Grundy Lowell Observatory hold a print of an U.S. stamp with their suggested update since the New Horizons spacecraft has explored Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

BOULDER, Colo. , June 28, 2016 (SwRI PR) — The National Aeronautics and Space Administration today bestowed its highest honor, the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, to Dr. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute. As principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, Stern led the team that returned remarkable imagery and other data from the Pluto system last summer, generating headlines worldwide and setting a record for the farthest world ever explored.

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Postal Service Releases Pluto—Explored! and Views of Our Planets Forever Stamps

Credit: USPS
Credit: USPS

NEW YORK CITY — Less than a year following NASA’s nine-year, three-billion plus mile New Horizons mission to explore Pluto, the U.S. Postal Service dedicated Forever stamps to commemorate the historic event, while dedicating a second set of stamps depicting NASA’s stunning images of our planets.

The first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony for the Pluto—Explored! and Views of Our Planets Forever stamps took place before a crowd of 500 at the world’s largest stamp show that only occurs in the United States once a decade, World Stamp Show-NY 2016. The show runs through Saturday. The public is asked to share the news on social media using the hashtags #PlutoExplored and #PlanetStamps. Visit  Our Planets Forever Stamps to view images of the stamps and background on the planets.

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