Now almost halfway through its NASA-funded Phase B development effort, the New Horizons project is making significant progress as it approaches its first major review.
Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern, director of the Space Studies Department of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), the home institution of the New Horizons mission, recently summarized the progress. "The team is meeting all of its planned milestones and, as the spacecraft design has become more detailed, we've actually been able to increase our power and data storage margins; we have a healthy amount of launch mass reserve as well."
"That's a remarkable achievement for any project. New Horizons is off to a very good start," adds vice president of the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division, Dr. James L. Burch.
The New Horizons team also has, with NASA's agreement, begun purchasing parts with long fabrication times for the scientific instruments that will examine Pluto, its moon Charon, and the Kuiper Belt, selecting the upper stage rocket needed to place the spacecraft on its trajectory to the very edge of the planetary system, and refining the mission trajectory and encounter plan.
"We are now approaching a project review called the SRR, or Systems Requirements Review. This is a formal step in every major NASA mission development effort, and we are looking forward to it," says New Horizons Payload Manager William Gibson, also of SwRI.
"We here at SwRI, our colleagues at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Maryland where the spacecraft will be built and operated, and our partners at industrial sites, NASA labs, and universities across the country have been hard at work refining mission, spacecraft, and instrument designs in advance of this review, which will take place May 15 and 16."
In other project-related news, NASA's highest-level advisory panel for planetary science, the Solar System Exploration Subcommittee, just this month reiterated to NASA its view that New Horizons is its highest priority mission for outer solar system exploration, stressing the necessity for the mission to continue toward its time-critical January 2006 launch.
Public support of the mission have been recently published by The Planetary Society and a host of leading editorial voices in the space and science journalism community, including Aviation Week & Space Technology, Scientific American, Astronomy, and Nature magazines.
"We are grateful for and very proud of this support and for SSES's recommendation to NASA -- and for the various editorials in the press -- it's wonderful to see such consistently strong community and public support for the project," says Stern.
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Exploring Pluto-Charon and the Kuiper Belt
Boulder - Mar 22, 2002
The exploration of the outer solar system began in the early 1970s with the launch of Pioneers 10 and 11. These two, small spacecraft served as trailblazers for the larger missions that followed. Despite their small size- just 600 pounds each- Pioneers 10 and 11 made history by being the first spacecraft to cross the asteroid belt, the first to visit Jupiter, the first to use Jupiter's powerful gravity to slingshot onward, and (for Pioneer 11) the first to explore Saturn.
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