On Oct. 17, the new horizons spacecraft passed the halfway mark in terms of the number of days from launch to its rendezvous with Pluto. The craft has completed its fourth annual checkout (ACO) as well as a course correction. In short, the first probe to visit the dwarf planet Pluto and the Kuiper Belt is well on its way to its destination and in good shape.
The team that handles the spacecraft now has to contend with a (round-trip) time lag of five hours. However, they have managed to deal with the occasional issues that have cropped up with little or no difficulty. The team has requested and received permission to conduct a dress rehearsal for its arrival at Pluto.
This is needed to uncover any issues that may occur. Once the craft reaches Pluto – it will not remain in orbit around the frozen world. Rather, it will conduct a fly-by and continue on toward the Kuiper Belt. The Kuiper Belt is a realm of ‘leftovers’ from when the solar system formed. This area has never been explored.
The New Horizons spacecraft launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop an Atlas V rocket. To lessen the amount of time to the destination the craft was propelled away from Earth at over 36,000 mph – making it the fastest man-made craft to date. Despite this incredible speed, New Horizons will not reach Pluto until 2015.