New Horizons Fires Engine for Historic Encounter Billions of Miles from Home

New Horizons on the eve on an important moment 1 photo
Photo: NASA
On New Year's day, billions of miles away from our home planet, a human-made spaceship will be meeting up with a Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule. It will be the first planned encounter of this kind in history, and the farthest exploration of a celestial body made by man.
New Horizons in the spaceship that showed the world in 2015 how the planet - or non-planet - Pluto looks like from up close. And is now getting ready for another historic photo shoot.

Ultima Thule, officially known as (486958) 2014 MU69, is a trans-Neptunian object (TNO) measuring 30 kilometers (19 miles) in diameter and likely made up of two bodies that have gravitated toward each other until they came together.

At the end of last week, New Horizons performed a three and a half minutes burn of its engine. This was required for the ship to line up with the piece of space rock which it expects to meet on New Year's day.

The short engine burn, which took place 3.95 billion miles (6.35 billion km) from Earth, increased the craft's speed by 2.1 meters per second, or roughly 4.6 miles per hour. The estimated time for reaching the target is now January 1, 2019.

Some of the trajectory maneuvers conducted so far, including the one of last week, were made based on pictures taken by New Horizons itself. Engineers call this optical navigation, and this particular burn was the last to be based on this type of data.

"Thanks to this maneuver, we're right down the middle of the pike and on time for the farthest exploration of worlds in history – more than a billion miles beyond Pluto," said in a statement mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern.

Currently, New Horizons is 69 million miles (112 million km) away from Ultima Thule, approaching at 32,256 miles per hour (51,911 km/h). When it reaches the target, it will have to perform a 140 seconds flyby in an area of 75 by 200 miles (120 by 320 kilometer) area around the object.
If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram
Press Release
About the author: Daniel Patrascu
Daniel Patrascu profile photo

Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories