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New Horizons Remains On Course For January 17 Launch To Pluto

Technicians install strips of the New Horizons mission decal on the spacecraft fairing in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. The last strip was installed on the fairing after the spacecraft was delivered to Pad 41 on Dec. 17. Image credit: NASA/KSC

Boulder CO (SPX) Jan 09, 2006
The past two weeks have been pretty quite for our intrepid spacecraft. For the most part, she has slept, un-powered, while launch vehicle and ground system preparations have continued. About the only real action came on January 3rd, when the final flight parameter loads were installed in the twinned computers New Horizons carries within her hull.

The next two weeks will be more exciting. Our launch date remains on course for 17 January. That's just over a week from now. And whether we fly that day, or the next, or the next�in fact�whenever we launch, the mighty Atlas V//STAR-48 propulsion stack will hurl New Horizons to a speed greater than any spacecraft has ever reached when leaving Earth.

Indeed, New Horizons will be traveling so fast after launch that she will cross the orbit of the Moon just 9 hours after crossing over the Atlantic beaches in Florida. That roughly 0.3 day trip make Apollo's 3 day lunar trek's seem almost quaint.

One thing I have never seen described is our planned suite of early activities on New Horizons. Simply put, we will spend the first month "out of the box" checking out spacecraft subsystems and flight software, fine tuning the flight trajectory to Jupiter, and preparing for the instrument commissioning activities that begin about five weeks after liftoff.

If you are looking for playbook, here's a more detailed list of planned, major activities during our first three weeks on the road to Pluto:

Day 1: First contact, command to flight mode, configure thermal control, IMUs on, burp and prime the propulsion lines. Day 2: Thermal management and guidance system checkouts. Day 3-8: Navigation system and sensor checks, guidance system checks, tracking to refine spacecraft trajectory. Day 9: First trajectory correction. Day 11: Second trajectory correction (if needed). Day 12-19: Additional guidance and navigation system checks, spacecraft trajectory refinement. Day 20: LORRI and PEPSSI instrument comm. and power checks. Day 21: Third trajectory correction (if needed).

Throughout this entire period, New Horizons will be tracked 24x7 by NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN). Mission controllers will be "at the spacecraft's side" every moment during these crucial early days of the mission.

Everyone on the project is looking forward to New Horizons being underway, a free bird, at home in zero-gravity and the clear, clean vacuum of space where she was meant to thrive, hurtling outbound to a date with the ninth planet about nine years hence.

PI Stern with third stage and New Horizons in the launch fairing.

Stay tuned for more updates on this page as launch approaches and we get under way with the flight mission.

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Scientists Show Pluto To Be Colder Than It Should Be
Cambridge MA (SPX) Jan 5, 2006
Mercury is boiling. Mars is freezing. The Earth is just right. When it comes to the temperatures of the planets, it makes sense that they should get colder the farther away they are from the Sun. But then there is Pluto. It has been suspected that this remote world might be even colder than it should be. Smithsonian scientists now have shown this to be true.

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