On January 19th, 2006, on board an Atlas V rocket, the New Horizons space probe was fired off into space on a near ten year mission to reach Pluto at the edge of The Solar System. The planet was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 by studying photos of the skies. When the project was began, Pluto had a planet status like all the other planets in the solar system such as our own Earth since then it has been demoted to the status of Dwarf Planet. The fact that the planet has been demoted in no way affects the importance of the mission. Its mission is to be the first inter-planetary space probe to Pluto. All the other planets have been visited over the years and this is the first time a craft has visited Pluto. The below is a picture showing the New Horizons and the different instruments.
It is the fastest space probe that has been developed, whilst it has passed other planets on the way, it has not studied those planets, instead it has been in hibernation mode so that it can save its energy for when it reaches the far off planet. Once it has flown past Pluto and its many moons, it will be sent onto further encounters but those will not happen for years into the future.
The probe has two 32 Gigabit hard drives which will take about 16 months to download back to Earth. If you consider how far away the planet is from Earth and that it takes light to travel 4.5 hours to get to Pluto, it easy to understand why it will take something like 16 months to get all the data back to Earth. An instruction from N.A.S.A. will take 4.5 hours to get to the probe, for it to act and then respond, it'll take a whole work day to get the information you want.
The New Horizons missions came after a number of previous Pluto missions were rejected such as Pluto Express. The craft will have seven instruments that it will use on the planet, most of which are peoples names.
|2001-01-19||New Horizons spacecraft successfully launched|
|2006-04-07||New Horizons passes by Mars|
|2007-02-28||New Horizons passes by Jupiter|
|2008-06-08||New Horizons passes by Saturn|
|2011-03-18||New Horizons passed by Uranus|
|2014-08-24||New Horizons will pass the orbit of Neptune|
|2015-07-14||New Horizons will reach its target.|
On the N.A.S.A. website, they produce pictures to show you the trajectory of the New Horizons satellite. Although this page might not get updated as often as the NASA site but it does give you an idea of how close and left it has to go.
During the journey, the probe is put into hibernation and woken up when needed. On the 6th December 2014, with still just over 162 million miles to go, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (N.A.S.A.) successfully woke up New Horizons. A response took four hours 26 minutes to arrive at NASA's Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia. 1
Pluto successfully arrived at Pluto and sent back a wealth of information. Amongst the information was the first photo of what the planet looked like with it famous heart shaped region. The probe was redirected to encounter 2014 MU69, another Kuiper Belt object scheduled for the beginning of 2019. The next target is not as large, in fact the asteroid is a mere 1% the size of Pluto but it is in the general direction of the probe.