Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Zooming to Pluto, APL-Built New Horizons Spacecraft Closes in on Jupiter

Just a year after it was dispatched on the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the APL-built New Horizons spacecraft is on the doorstep of the solar system’s largest planet — about to swing past Jupiter and pick up even more speed on its voyage toward the unexplored regions of the planetary frontier.

The fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons will make its closest pass to Jupiter on Feb. 28, threading its path through an “aim point” 1.4 million miles (2.3 million kilometers) from the center of Jupiter. Jupiter’s gravity will accelerate New Horizons away from the Sun by an additional 9,000 miles per hour — half the speed of a space shuttle in orbit — pushing it past 52,000 mph and hurling it toward a pass through the Pluto system in July 2015.

At the same time, the New Horizons mission team is taking the spacecraft on the ultimate test drive — using the flyby to put the probe’s systems and seven science instruments through the paces of a planetary encounter. More than 700 observations of Jupiter and its four largest moons are planned from January through June, including scans of Jupiter’s turbulent, stormy atmosphere and dynamic magnetic cocoon (called a magnetosphere); the most detailed survey yet of its gossamer ring system; maps of the composition and topography of the large moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto; and an unprecedented look at volcanic activity on Io.

The flight plan also calls for the first-ever trip down the long “tail” of Jupiter’s magnetosphere, a wide stream of charged particles that extends tens of millions of miles beyond the planet, and the first close-up look at the “Little Red Spot,” a nascent storm south of Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot.

“Our highest priority is to get the spacecraft safely through the gravity assist and on its way to Pluto,” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo. “But we also have an incredible opportunity to conduct a real-world-encounter stress test to wring out our procedures and techniques for Pluto, and to collect some valuable science data.”

The Jupiter test matches or exceeds the mission’s Pluto study in duration, data volume sent back to Earth, and operational intensity. Much of the data from the Jupiter flyby won’t be sent back to Earth until after closest approach, because the spacecraft’s main priority is to observe the planet and store data on its recorders before transmitting information home.

“We designed the Jupiter encounter to prove out our planning tools, our simulation capabilities, our spacecraft and our instrument sensors on a real planetary target, well before the Pluto encounter,” says Glen Fountain, New Horizons project manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Md., which built and operates the spacecraft. “If the team needs to adjust anything before Pluto, we’ll find out about it now.”

The mission team at APL, SwRI and other institutions has learned much in a hectic year since New Horizons lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., last Jan. 19. The spacecraft has undergone a full range of system and instrument checkouts, instrument calibrations and commissioning, some flight software enhancements, and three small propulsive maneuvers to adjust its trajectory. Operational highlights of the past year included long-distance snapshots of both Jupiter and Pluto, and a flyby of asteroid 2002 JF56 (recently named “APL” by the International Astronomical Union).

With closest approach to Jupiter coming 13 months after launch, New Horizons will reach the planet faster than any of its seven previous visitors. Pioneers 10 and 11, Voyagers 1 and 2, Ulysses and Cassini all used Jupiter’s gravity to reach other destinations; NASA’s Galileo orbited the planet from 1995-2003.

New Horizons also provides the first close-up look at the Jovian system since Galileo, and the last until NASA’s Juno mission arrives in 2016. “The Jupiter system is incredibly dynamic,” says New Horizons Jupiter Encounter Science Team lead Dr. Jeff Moore, of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. “From constant changes in Jupiter’s magnetosphere and atmosphere, to the evolving surfaces of moons such as Io, you get a new snapshot every time you go there.”

After an eight-year cruise from Jupiter across the expanse of the solar system, New Horizons will conduct a five-month-long study of Pluto and its three moons in 2015, characterizing their global geology and geomorphology, mapping their surface compositions and temperatures, and examining Pluto’s atmospheric composition and structure. Then, as part of a potential extended mission, New Horizons would conduct similar studies of one or more smaller worlds in the Kuiper Belt, the region of ancient, rocky and icy bodies far beyond Neptune’s orbit.

The New Horizons science payload includes imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a multi-color camera, a long-range telescopic camera, two particle spectrometers, a space-dust detector and a radio science experiment. The compact, 1,050-pound spacecraft, drawing electricity from a single radioisotope thermoelectric generator, currently operates on slightly more power than a pair of 100 -watt light bulbs.

New Horizons is the first mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program of medium-class spacecraft exploration projects. Stern leads the mission and science team as principal investigator; APL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Michael Buckley | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma
28.10.2016 | American Physical Society

nachricht Scientists measure how ions bombard fusion device walls
28.10.2016 | American Physical Society

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel light sources made of 2D materials

Physicists from the University of Würzburg have designed a light source that emits photon pairs. Two-photon sources are particularly well suited for tap-proof data encryption. The experiment's key ingredients: a semiconductor crystal and some sticky tape.

So-called monolayers are at the heart of the research activities. These "super materials" (as the prestigious science magazine "Nature" puts it) have been...

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Prototype device for measuring graphene-based electromagnetic radiation created

28.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Gamma ray camera offers new view on ultra-high energy electrons in plasma

28.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

When fat cells change their colour

28.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>