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Next Stop Kuiper Belt For New Horizons ?

According to a new blog post from NASA, scientists has selected a potential target for the highly successful mission that recently obtained stunning images of Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft. The lucky candidate for a close encounter is the remote Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69, nicknamed PT1, it is one of 2 potential targets reachable by the probe. According to astronaut and chief of the NASA Science Mission Directorate, John Grunsfield NASA, is  already looking outward to the next destination while the probe continues to stream priceless data from the encounter with Pluto.

 

An extended mission has yet to be approved but according to John Grunsfield the new undertaking will be much less expensive than the primary mission. Whenever possible, NASA tries to extend missions by probes that has finished their primary mission as this is a much less time consuming and costly endeavour than creating a new mission from scratch. A formal proposal for the mission will be written with a delivery date of summer 2016.

Finding a suitable KBO target was no easy task. NASA started searching for a potential candidate in 2011 using large ground based telescopes, several objects were found but none proved feasible for the mission, mostly due to fuel constraints. In 2014 the Hubble Space Telescope came to the rescue, discovering five candidates that were later narrowed down to two.

New Horizons was initially designed to be able to fly by Pluto and optionally continue beyond to a suitalble KBO candidate, the spacecraft carries extra hydrazine fuel for this purpose. The communication system of the probe is designed to work from far beyond Pluto and and the power system will work for many years to come.

“2014 MU69 is a great choice because it is just the kind of ancient KBO, formed where it orbits now, that the Decadal Survey desired us to fly by,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern.

New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as part of NASA’s New Frontiers programEngineered by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute with a team led by S. Alan Stern, the spacecraft was launched to study Pluto, its moons and the Kuiper belt, performing flybys of the Pluto system and one or more other Kuiper belt objects (source, Wikipedia)

New Horizons is currently more than 3 billion miles from Earth and is reported to be in excellent health according to mission scientists.

Next Stop Kuiper Belt For New Horizons ? – Read the original NASA blog post here