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New Horizons Still On Schedule For Launch

On Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, the Atlas V expendable launch vehicle with the New Horizons spacecraft settles into position with the launcher umbilical tower on the pad. Image credit: NASA/KSC.

Washington DC (SPX) Jan 17, 2006
NASA's New Horizons mission to the outer solar system remains on schedule for launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., at 1:24 p.m. Eastern Time Tuesday.

"Right now, the weather looks about 80 percent favorable," Mike Buckley, a spokesman for the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, told "We're proceeding toward launch." If the weather or technical problems intervene, mission engineers will have until 3:23 p.m. ET to stay within the launch window. Additional but less favorable windows will remain until Feb. 14.

APL, in Laurel, Md., is managing the mission for NASA. Its engineers designed and built the New Horizons spacecraft, the first probe to the planet Pluto and its moons: Charon, and the newly discovered P1 and P2.

The new moons, which astronomers discovered last year with the Hubble Space Telescope, each are less than 100 kilometers in diameter and orbit Pluto every 38 days and 25 days, respectively or rather, Pluto and its three moons orbit a common gravitational center. "The new picture of Pluto reveals it is a quadruple planet, not a binary planet," said Max Mutchler of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

The spacecraft will be lifted into orbit atop an Atlas V rocket, "the largest, most powerful Atlas vehicle to be launched," said Fran Slimmer, a spokeswoman for International Launch Services, which provided the Atlas. "The rocket will deliver more than 2 million pounds of thrust at liftoff," Slimmer added, and will clear its four lightning towers in about six seconds.

After about 4 minutes and 30 seconds, the Atlas booster stage will burn out and separate from its Centaur upper stage, which will burn for nearly 5 minutes and 30 seconds, inserting the vehicle into an elliptical parking orbit. From there, the Centaur will ignite a second time, burning nearly 10 minutes before separating from the third stage Star-48B kick motor hauling the New Horizons probe.

New Horizons is due to separate at a mission elapsed time of 47 minutes, 47 seconds. All estimated times depend on making the initial launch window, however, Slimmer said.

After a successful launch, orbit and escape burn, the spacecraft is expected to fly past the Moon within 10 hours traveling at a speed of approximately 36,000 miles per hour.

Source: United Press International

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Five Aerojet Boosters Set To Lift New Horizons Spacecraft

Sacramento CA (SPX) Jan 17, 2006
Aerojet will provide five solid rocket boosters for the launch vehicle and a propulsion system for the spacecraft when a Lockheed Martin Atlas V launches the Pluto New Horizons spacecraft January 17 from Cape Canaveral, AFB.

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