Tag Archives: radioisotope thermoelectric generator

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).