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Nearly ten years after its launch, the New Horizons spacecraft will reach its closest encounter with Pluto on July 14, 2015. NASA and the world science community will celebrate the landmark at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University, as well as at “PlutoPalooza” events around the world.
Three months ago, I posted an article explaining what to expect during the flyby. This is a revised version of the same post, with some errors corrected, the expected sizes of Nix and Hydra updated, and times of press briefings added.
The team reported two weeks ago that the first attempts at observing 2014 MU69 were unsuccessful. But in their third try, on July 17, astronomers in Argentina saw the telltale sign of MU69's presence: a stellar wink.
What's ahead for our intrepid space explorers in 2017? It'll be the end of Cassini, but not before the mission performs great science close to the rings. OSIRIS-REx will fly by Earth, and Chang'e 5 will launch to the Moon, as a host of other spacecraft continue their ongoing missions.
Cassini is going to make a major change to its orbit, getting much close to Saturn, setting up 20 "F-ring" orbits. ExoMars will get two science orbits before beginning aerobraking. Long March 5 will have its first launch, while many Earth-observing missions, including Himawari-9 and GOES-R, will go up. But Juno science is on hold.
New Horizons—what will be NASA’s greatest success of 2015—was cancelled multiple times in its early life, and many times before that in its previous incarnations. A mission to Pluto was not inevitable, despite the overwhelming scientific and public excitement.
As Director of Space Policy, Casey leads the strategic planning and implementation of the Society's policy- and advocacy-related efforts. He works closely with the Society's leadership, the Board of Directors, and other policy experts to craft the organizational positions and generate ideas about the future of space exploration.
The fields of view (FOVs) of the Ralph MVIC (blue and yellow), Ralph LEISA (red), Alice airglow (green), and LORRI (purple) instruments are projected onto the sky plane; the listed boresights are measured in-flight values. The angular extent of each instrument’s FOV is also listed. The spacecraft +X direction is out of the page, the +Y direction is up, and the +Z direction is to the left. The LORRI field FOV overlaps the narrow portion of the Alice airglow channel, and the MVIC FOV overlaps the wide portion. The LEISA FOV overlaps the MVIC FOV.
Illustration of TDI in operation. In step 0, a target is about to enter the field of view of a TDI array. In step 1, the image of the target has moved a single pixel width into the first row of the array. In step 2, the charge is transferred to the second row of the array and integration continues. A new target has moved into row 1. The next charge transfer occurs when the image of the target has moved another row. In step 32, the target has moved 32 rows, with the charge being transferred each time the image moves another row. At the next charge transfer, the charge in row 32 is transferred to a serial column for pixel readout.
Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 3,500 meters high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 18,000 kilometers to Pluto; the scene is 380 kilometers across.
In this small section of the larger crescent image of Pluto, taken by NASA’s New Horizons just 15 minutes after the spacecraft’s closest approach on July 14, 2015, the setting sun illuminates a fog or near-surface haze, which is cut by the parallel shadows of many local hills and small mountains. The image was taken from a distance of 18,000 kilo-meters, and the width of the image is 185 kilometers.