New Horizons Doing Science in Its Sleep
Pluto-Bound Spacecraft to Collect More Data When ‘Hibernating’
NASA’s New Horizons, now almost 24 times as far from the Sun as the Earth is, is back in hibernation, a slumbering state in which it will remain until January 2013.
But hibernation aboard the spacecraft isn’t quite what it used to be.
Starting this month, New Horizons – the first emissary to Pluto and the third planetary zone of our solar system, and fifth spacecraft to explore the outer heliosphere – has been given a “go” from mission managers to start collecting data on interplanetary space during its long hibernation periods on the way to the Pluto system. That means that New Horizons is now working while it sleeps, gathering new information in a region of space that’s rarely visited by spacecraft.
After launch in January 2006 and a gravity assist from Jupiter in February 2007, New Horizons entered the “deep cruise” phase of its mission, which lasts until Pluto encounter operations ramp up in summer 2014. New Horizons then begins the encounter in January 2015 and makes its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015.