New Horizons Pluto Mission Suffered Scare

Posted: Jul 5 2015, 8:15am CDT | by , Updated: Jul 5 2015, 8:19am CDT , in Latest Science News


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New Horizons Pluto Mission Suffered Scare
Photo Credit: Getty Images

NASA had to deal with an anomaly of the New Horizons spacecraft.

So far everything went really well with the New Horizons spacecraft. Just end of last week we reported that NASA gave New Horizons an "All Clear" for the Pluto fly-by. Now a new report of an anomaly had the NASA team briefly scared.

NASA informed that the New Horizons spacecraft experienced an anomaly the afternoon of July 4 that led to a loss of communication with Earth. The good news is that the communication has since been reestablished and New Horizons and the spacecraft is healthy.

The mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, lost contact with the unmanned spacecraft, now 10 days from arrival at Pluto, at 1:54 p.m. EDT, and regained communications with New Horizons at 3:15 p.m. EDT, through NASA’s Deep Space Network.

During that time the autonomous autopilot on board the spacecraft recognized a problem and – as it’s programmed to do in such a situation - switched from the main to the backup computer. The autopilot placed the spacecraft in “safe mode,” and commanded the backup computer to reinitiate communication with Earth. New Horizons then began to transmit telemetry to help engineers diagnose the problem.

A New Horizons Anomaly Review Board (ARB) was convened at 4 p.m. EDT to gather information on the problem and initiate a recovery plan. Now a NASA team is working to return New Horizons to its original flight plan. Due to the 9-hour, round trip communication delay that results from operating a spacecraft almost 3 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) from Earth, full recovery is expected to take from one to several days and New Horizons will be temporarily unable to collect science data during that time.

The mission is still on, but clearly NASA would have liked to have uneventful days until the scheduled fly-by mid-July. Now the scientists and engineers have to scramble to make the historic fly-by happen as planned.

New Horizons is less 10 million miles (16 million kilometers) from the Pluto system – some 2.95 billion miles (4.75 billion kilometers) from Earth. New Horizons Closest Approach to Pluto: 7:49:57 a.m. EDT, July 14, 2015.

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