It’s Official! New Horizons Completes Successful Flyby Of Pluto

New Horizons “phones home” following successful Pluto flyby.

In a journey nearly a decade in the marking, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft successfully completed its historic flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto. Mission controllers received a signal from the spacecraft indicating it was healthy and completed its scheduled science observations at 8:52:37 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 14.

“Following in the footsteps of planetary exploration missions such as Mariner, Pioneer and Voyager, New Horizons has triumphed at Pluto,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said at a press conference following reception of the signal. “The New Horizons flyby completes the first era of planetary reconnaissance, a half century long endeavor that will forever be a legacy of our time.”

New Horizons Flight Controllers celebrate after receiving confirmation from the spacecraft that it had successfully completed the flyby of Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015. Image Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls

New Horizons Flight Controllers celebrate after receiving confirmation from the spacecraft that it had successfully completed the flyby of Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015. Image Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls

The spacecraft sent back engineering data reporting on the status of the spacecraft following its flyby of the Pluto system. The spacecraft reported it was healthy, had experienced no errors and was on its expected course. In addition to that, the amount of available memory space on the spacecraft following the flyby indicates New Horizons completed all its planned observations during that time frame.

The New Horizons spacecraft gathered so much data during its brief flyby of Pluto that it will take 16 months to transmit all of the data stored in its memory banks back to Earth.

While the spacecraft made its closest approach to the dwarf planet at 7:49:57 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 14, mission controllers would not receive radio contact until more than 13 hours later. This was by design. In order to capture the best images of Pluto and its moons, the spacecraft had to point its antenna away from Earth during the flyby. Further adding to the holdup is a 4.5 hour communications delay caused by the distance the signal has to travel to reach Earth.

The image of Pluto was captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft from a distance of 476,000 miles from Pluto at approximately 4 p.m. EDT on July 13. Image Credit: NASA

The image of Pluto was captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft from a distance of 476,000 miles from Pluto at approximately 4 p.m. EDT on July 13. Image Credit: NASA

New Horizons was launched on January 25, 2006 on a more than 3 billion mile journey to become the first spacecraft to visit Pluto. New Horizons has traveled longer and farther than any other spacecraft in history to reach its primary target.

New Horizons is only the second spacecraft in history to visit and take detailed images of a dwarf planet. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft beat out New Horizons by just a few months to become the first spacecraft to visit a dwarf planet when it entered orbit around Ceres on March 6.

Pluto is the first Kuiper Belt Object visited by a spacecraft in history. Pluto lies at the inner most edge of the Kuiper Belt, a distant, previously unexplored region of the solar system filed with icy bodies. After New Horizons completes its primary science mission, mission scientists are hoping to secure the funding necessary to extend the mission to study more distant bodies in the Kuiper Belt.

  • http://explodingrock.com AFRÕ

    This is truly amazing.