New Horizons spacecraft

New Horizons spacecraft

Courtesy of NASA

New Horizons will be the first to explore Pluto and its moon Charon, located at the edge of the solar system in extreme, icy conditions. This will be a flyby mission so the spacecraft can continue on (maybe until 2020) to explore another object in the Kuiper Belt. At the time the mission was planned, Pluto was still considered to be our ninth planet.

January 19, 2006

Scheduled for July, 2015

End of Mission
Still operating

Map surface composition of Pluto and Charon.

Characterize geology and morphology (how they look) of Pluto and Charon.

Characterize the neutral atmosphere of Pluto and its escape rate.

Search for an atmosphere around Charon.

Map surface temperatures on Pluto and Charon.

Search for rings and additional satellites around Pluto.

Conduct similar investigations of one or more Kuiper Belt objects.

New Horizons has not yet arrived at Pluto so there are no specific findings. On February 28, 2007, it made a close flyby of Jupiter to get a gravitational boost, which shortened its cruise time by about 3 years. During the journey instruments return data to Earth, and already they have sent back images of a plume from the active Tvashtar volcano on Io that reached 200 miles high. During the long trip to Pluto, the spacecraft will undergo annual instrument checkouts and calibrations, course corrections, and Pluto encounter rehearsals.