New Horizons spacecraft is travelling towards its next flyby target – the Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 – and is almost half way there, NASA has revealed.
If all goes well, New Horizons will be flying by 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019. Currently the spacecraft is 782.45 million kms beyond Pluto and the same distance from MU69. The information was revealed by Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, who said that their spacecraft will be setting the record for the most distant world ever explored in the history of civilization.
New Horizons will be beginning a new period of hibernation later this week.
In addition to its historic Pluto encounter and 16 subsequent months of relaying the data from that encounter back to Earth, New Horizons has made breakthrough, distant observations of a dozen Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs).
It has collected unique data on the dust and charged-particle environment of the Kuiper Belt and studied the hydrogen gas that permeates the vast space surrounding the Sun, called the heliosphere.
Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from APL said, “The January 2019 MU69 flyby is the next big event for us, but New Horizons is truly a mission to more broadly explore the Kuiper Belt.”
Weaver added, “In addition to MU69, we plan to study more than two-dozen other KBOs in the distance and measure the charged particle and dust environment all the way across the Kuiper Belt”.
New Horizons spacecraft is currently 5.7 billion kms from Earth. At that distance, a radio signal sent from the operations team – and travelling at light speed – needs about five hours and 20 minutes to reach the spacecraft.