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Emily LakdawallaSeptember 25, 2007

New Horizons now aimed directly at Pluto

This afternoon Alan Stern posted to that New Horizons has successfully completed the trajectory correction maneuver that lines the spacecraft up for its July 14, 2015 encounter with Pluto. This is the first firing of the thrusters since before the encounter with Jupiter, and it is also the last such maneuver that it will perform before it has to re-target to a Kuiper belt object.

Just think about that: we're still almost eight years away from the Pluto system encounter, and New Horizons is already aimed right on target. The navigation team deserves some credit for this but I think that greater credit goes to the immutable laws of physics and the people who figured out the right mathematical equations to use to describe those laws, going all the way back to Newton.

And we can't forget the usually unsung heroes of the giant dishes of the Deep Space Network and their operators, without whom we wouldn't know anything about planetary missions -- neither science nor engineering data, and certainly not the ultra-accurate and precise position and velocity information about the spacecraft that you need to know in order to target a flyby eight years before it happens. Those dishes are in very serious need of overhauling and upgrading -- Alan, if you're reading this, I hope that's one of the things you're working on over there at NASA Headquarters. Upgrading the DSN is just about as politically exciting as repairing road bridges. Please, please, please don't let it take the catastrophic collapse of one of the 70-meter antennas to finally light a fire under the tail of Congress and NASA to fund necessary repairs to the DSN!

DSS-43, the 70-meter antenna at Canberra


DSS-43, the 70-meter antenna at Canberra
DSS-43 is the largest steerable antenna in the southern hemisphere. Originally built to a diameter of 64 meters in 1973, it was expanded to 70 meters in 1987. It can transmit signals in the X and S radio bands and recieve signals in the X, S, L, K, and Ku bands. It can operate safely in winds up to 72 kilometers per hour, and is built to survive winds of up to 160 kilometers per hour.

Read more: New Horizons, mission status

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Emily Lakdawalla

Solar System Specialist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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