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  NASA's New Horizons to Pluto, Ultima Thule (Page 3)

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Author Topic:   NASA's New Horizons to Pluto, Ultima Thule
Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 02-08-2018 04:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
New Horizons Captures Record-Breaking Images in the Kuiper Belt

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft recently turned its telescopic camera toward a field of stars, snapped an image – and made history.

The routine calibration frame of the "Wishing Well" galactic open star cluster, made by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on Dec. 5, was taken when New Horizons was 3.79 billion miles (6.12 billion kilometers, or 40.9 astronomical units) from Earth – making it, for a time, the farthest image ever made from Earth.

New Horizons was even farther from home than NASA's Voyager 1 when it captured the famous "Pale Blue Dot" image of Earth. That picture was part of a composite of 60 images looking back at the solar system, on Feb. 14, 1990, when Voyager was 3.75 billion miles (6.06 billion kilometers, or about 40.5 astronomical units [AU]) from Earth. Voyager 1's cameras were turned off shortly after that portrait, leaving its distance record unchallenged for more than 27 years.

LORRI broke its own record just two hours later with images of Kuiper Belt objects 2012 HZ84 and 2012 HE85 – further demonstrating how nothing stands still when you're covering more than 700,000 miles (1.1 million kilometers) of space each day.

Distance and Speed

New Horizons is just the fifth spacecraft to speed beyond the outer planets, so many of its activities set distance records. On Dec. 9 it carried out the most-distant course-correction maneuver ever, as the mission team guided the spacecraft toward a close encounter with a KBO named 2014 MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019. That New Year's flight past MU69 will be the farthest planetary encounter in history, happening one billion miles beyond the Pluto system – which New Horizons famously explored in July 2015.

During its extended mission in the Kuiper Belt, which began in 2017, New Horizons is aiming to observe at least two-dozen other KBOs, dwarf planets and "Centaurs," former KBOs in unstable orbits that cross the orbits of the giant planets. Mission scientists study the images to determine the objects' shapes and surface properties, and to check for moons and rings. The spacecraft also is making nearly continuous measurements of the plasma, dust and neutral-gas environment along its path.

The New Horizons spacecraft is healthy and is currently in hibernation. Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, will bring the spacecraft out of its electronic slumber on June 4 and begin a series of system checkouts and other activities to prepare New Horizons for the MU69 encounter.

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 40261
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 06-05-2018 12:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
New Horizons Wakes for Historic Kuiper Belt Flyby

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is back "awake" and being prepared for the farthest planetary encounter in history – a New Year's Day 2019 flyby of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule.

Cruising through the Kuiper Belt more than 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) from Earth, New Horizons had been in resource-saving hibernation mode since Dec. 21. Radio signals confirming that New Horizons had executed on-board computer commands to exit hibernation reached mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, via NASA's Deep Space Network at 2:12 a.m. EDT on June 5.

Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of APL reported that the spacecraft was in good health and operating normally, with all systems coming back online as expected.

Over the next three days, the mission team will collect navigation tracking data (using signals from the Deep Space Network) and send the first of many commands to New Horizons' onboard computers to begin preparations for the Ultima flyby; lasting about two months, those flyby preparations include memory updates, Kuiper Belt science data retrieval, and a series of subsystem and science-instrument checkouts. In August, the team will command New Horizons to begin making distant observations of Ultima, images that will help the team refine the spacecraft's course to fly by the object.

"Our team is already deep into planning and simulations of our upcoming flyby of Ultima Thule and excited that New Horizons is now back in an active state to ready the bird for flyby operations, which will begin in late August," said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

New Horizons made a historic flight past Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015, returning data that has transformed our view of these intriguing worlds near the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt. Since then, New Horizons has been speeding deeper into this distant region, observing other Kuiper Belt objects and measuring the properties of the heliosphere while heading toward the flyby of Ultima Thule -- about a billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto – on Jan. 1, 2019.

New Horizons is now approximately 162 million miles (262 million kilometers) – less than twice the distance between Earth and the Sun – from Ultima, speeding 760,200 miles (1,223,420 kilometers closer each day.

Long-Distance Numbers

On June 5, 2018, New Horizons was nearly 3.8 billion miles (6.1 billion kilometers) from Earth. From there – more than 40 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun – a radio signal sent from the spacecraft at light speed reached Earth 5 hours and 40 minutes later.

The 165-day hibernation that ended June 4 was the second of two such "rest" periods for the spacecraft before the Ultima Thule flyby. The spacecraft will now remain active until late 2020, after it has transmitted all data from the Ultima encounter back to Earth and completed other Kuiper Belt science observations.

Robert Pearlman
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From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 08-28-2018 09:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
Ultima in View: NASA's New Horizons Makes First Detection of Kuiper Belt Flyby Target

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has made its first detection of its next flyby target, the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, more than four months ahead of its New Year's 2019 close encounter.

Above: The figure on the left is a composite image produced by adding 48 different exposures from the News Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), each with an exposure time of 29.967 seconds, taken on Aug. 16, 2018. The predicted position of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule is at the center of the yellow box, and is indicated by the red crosshairs, just above and left of a nearby star that is approximately 17 times brighter than Ultima.

At right is a magnified view of the region in the yellow box, after subtraction of a background star field "template" taken by LORRI in September 2017 before it could detect the object itself. Ultima is clearly detected in this star-subtracted image and is very close to where scientists predicted, indicating to the team that New Horizons is being targeted in the right direction.

The many artifacts in the star-subtracted image are caused either by small mis-registrations between the new LORRI images and the template, or by intrinsic brightness variations of the stars. At the time of these observations, Ultima Thule was 107 million miles (172 million kilometers) from the New Horizons spacecraft and 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from the Sun.

Mission team members were thrilled – if not a little surprised – that New Horizons' telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was able to see the small, dim object while still more than 100 million miles away, and against a dense background of stars. Taken Aug. 16 and transmitted home through NASA's Deep Space Network over the following days, the set of 48 images marked the team's first attempt to find Ultima with the spacecraft's own cameras.

"The image field is extremely rich with background stars, which makes it difficult to detect faint objects," said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist and LORRI principal investigator from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. "It really is like finding a needle in a haystack. In these first images, Ultima appears only as a bump on the side of a background star that's roughly 17 times brighter, but Ultima will be getting brighter – and easier to see – as the spacecraft gets closer."

This first detection is important because the observations New Horizons makes of Ultima over the next four months will help the mission team refine the spacecraft's course toward a closest approach to Ultima, at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1, 2019. That Ultima was where mission scientists expected it to be – in precisely the spot they predicted, using data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope – indicates the team already has a good idea of Ultima's orbit.

The Ultima flyby will be the first-ever close-up exploration of a small Kuiper Belt object and the farthest exploration of any planetary body in history, shattering the record New Horizons itself set at Pluto in July 2015 by about 1 billion miles. These images are also the most distant from the Sun ever taken, breaking the record set by Voyager 1's "Pale Blue Dot" image of Earth taken in 1990. (New Horizons set the record for the most distant image from Earth in December 2017.)

"Our team worked hard to determine if Ultima was detected by LORRI at such a great distance, and the result is a clear yes," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "We now have Ultima in our sights from much farther out than once thought possible. We are on Ultima's doorstep, and an amazing exploration awaits!"

Robert Pearlman
Editor

Posts: 40261
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 10-05-2018 04:04 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
New Horizons Sets Up for New Year's Flyby of Ultima Thule

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft carried out a short engine burn on Oct. 3 to home in on the location and timing of its New Year's flyby of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule.

Above: At left, a composite optical navigation image, produced by combining 20 images from the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) acquired on Sept. 24. The center photo is a composite optical navigation image of Ultima Thule after subtracting the background star field; star field subtraction is an important component of optical navigation image processing since it isolates Ultima from nearby stars. At right is a magnified view of the star-subtracted image, showing the close proximity and relative agreement between the observed and predicted locations of Ultima. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/KinetX)

Word from the spacecraft that it had successfully performed the 3½-minute maneuver reached mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, at around 10:20 p.m. EDT. The maneuver slightly tweaked the spacecraft's trajectory and bumped its speed by 2.1 meters per second – just about 4.6 miles per hour – keeping it on track to fly past Ultima (officially named 2014 MU69) at 12:33 am EST on Jan. 1, 2019.

"Thanks to this maneuver, we're right down the middle of the pike and on time for the farthest exploration of worlds in history – more than a billion miles beyond Pluto," said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute. "It almost sounds like science fiction, but it's not. Go New Horizons!"

At 4.1 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers) from Earth, Ultima Thule will be the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft. New Horizons itself was about 3.95 billion miles (6.35 billion kilometers) from home when it carried out Wednesday's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM), the farthest course-correction ever performed.

This was the first Ultima targeting maneuver that used pictures taken by New Horizons itself to determine the spacecraft's position relative to the Kuiper Belt object. These "optical navigation" images – gathered by New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) – provide direct information of Ultima's position relative to New Horizons, and help the team determine where the spacecraft is headed.

The New Horizons team designed the TCM by determining the current trajectories of the spacecraft and its target, and then calculating the maneuvering required to put the spacecraft at the desired "aim point" for the flyby – 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) from Ultima at closest approach.

"The recent navigation images have helped us confirm that Ultima is within about 300 miles [500 kilometers] of its expected position, which is exceptionally good," said Fred Pelletier, New Horizons navigation team chief, of KinetX Aerospace, Inc. "We're excited for the flyby."

Confirming that Ultima is at its expected location is an important and somewhat unique aspect of this flyby. "Since we are flying very fast and close to the surface of Ultima, approximately four times closer than the Pluto flyby in July 2015, the timing of the flyby must be very accurate," said Derek Nelson, New Horizons optical navigation lead, also from KinetX. "The images help to determine the position and timing of the flyby, but we must also trust the prior estimate of Ultima's position and velocity to ensure a successful flyby. These first images give us confidence that Ultima is where we expected it to be, and the timing of the flyby will be accurate."

The spacecraft is just 69 million miles (112 million kilometers) from Ultima, closing in at 32,256 miles (51,911 kilometers) per hour. Pelletier said the team will eventually have to guide the spacecraft into an approximately 75 by 200-mile (120 by 320-kilometer) "box" and predict the flyby to within 140 seconds. "There is definitely more work to do," he said. "But we are taking pictures of the most distant world ever explored. How cool is that?"


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