NASA’s New Horizons wakes up

After nine years the spacecraft is roused on approach to Pluto

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New Horizons left Earth in January 2006.

Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

After a voyage of almost five billion kilometres, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft was brought out of hibernation mode on 6 December in preparation for its arrival at Pluto in 2015.  

The distant spacecraft left Earth in January 2006 and has spent a total of 1,873 days in hibernation mode in an effort to preserve its fragile components and reduce the risk of damage.

New Horizons will begin exploring Pluto and its plethora of moons in January but will not make its closest approach until 14 July. Currently the spacecraft is around 260 million kilometres from Pluto itself.

“This is a watershed event that signals the end of New Horizons crossing of a vast ocean of space to the very frontier of our solar system, and the beginning of the mission’s primary objective: the exploration of Pluto and its many moons in 2015,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator.

The ‘wake-up’ sequence was programmed into the spacecraft’s computer in August and took around 90 minutes to complete in full. Over the next few weeks, investigators will ensure that all the spacecraft’s systems are functioning ahead of the first glimpse of Pluto and its many moons.

New Horizons will be the first spacecraft ever to reach the dwarf planet Pluto.


 

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