Tag Archives: New Horizons spacecraft

New Horizons Spacecraft Rapidly Approaching Encounter with Pluto

Peter Lobner

New Horizons is rapidly approaching Pluto for a fast fly-by encounter with closest approach at 7:49 am on Tuesday, 14 July 2015. You’ll find basic information about the New Horizons mission in my 14 March 2015 post on this subject. Detailed information is available at the NASA New Horizons mission website at the following link:


The spacecraft will fly past Pluto at 30,800 mph (49,600 kph), and is expected to fly within 7,750 miles (11,265 km) of Pluto’s surface. The close-encounter segment of the flyby is quite brief, as shown in the following diagram of New Horizon’s trajectory through the Pluto system.

New Horizons trajectorySource: NASA/Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

On 9 July, New Horizon’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (Lorri) took the following photo from a range of 3.3 million miles. Some basic surface features have been noted by the NASA project team, along with a diagram indicating Pluto’s north pole, equator, and central meridian.

Pluto pic 1

Source: NASA/Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

On 11 July, the project team released the following slightly more detailed photo that reveals linear features that may be cliffs, as well as a circular feature that could be an impact crater.

Pluto pic 2

Source: NASA/Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Below is a photo released on 9 July showing both Pluto and it’s largest moon, Charon, which orbit each other around their common center of gravity. You’ll find more information on the unusual orbital interactions among Pluto and it’s five known moons in my 6 June 2015 post on that subject.

Pluto pic 3

Source: NASA/Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The New Horizons Mission to Pluto

Peter Lobner

The New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled for a flyby of Pluto and its five known moons on July 14, 2015.  Launched in January 2006, New Horizons has gone through 18 “hibernation” cycles enroute to Pluto.  It came out of its last hibernation cycle on December 6, 2014.  New Horizons electrical systems are powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) that produces electricity from the heat of decaying Plutonium 238.  Propulsion is by means of hydrazine thrusters.

plutonewhorizons-nasa New Horizons spacecraft. Source: NASA
You can find details on the design of the New Horizons spacecraft at the following link:
New Horizons trajectory from Earth included a gravity-assist from Jupiter.
trajectoryImage Source: NASA
Here’s a New Horizons photo of Jupiter during it’s 2007 flyby:
jupiter-io Source: NASA
Pluto and moon Charon viewed from New Horizons in January 2015:
Source: NASA

You can see an interesting NASA time-lapse “video” sequence of  Charon circling Pluto at the following link:


As noted in that article, Charon’s mass is roughly a tenth of Pluto’s, which gives it enough gravitational pull to have a noticeable effect on Pluto’s position.

You can follow details on the New Horizons mission on the following NASA website: 


 After the Pluto encounter, New Horizons will continue on to visit one or more objects in the Kuiper Belt, which circles our solar system beyond the orbit of Pluto.  The Hubble space telescope has been used to search for potential Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).