Mission Type: Flyby
Launch Vehicle: Atlas V-551 (core Atlas booster [with five solid rocket boosters attached] with a Centaur upper stage); and a STAR-48B solid-propellant rocket third stage.
Launch Site: Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., USA.
NASA Center: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Spacecraft Mass: 478 kilograms (1,054 pounds) at launch
Spacecraft Instruments: 1) Visible and infrared imager/spectrometer (RALPH); 2) ultraviolet imaging spectrometer (ALICE); 3) radio science experiment for studying atmospheres (REX); 4) telescopic camera (LORRI); 5) solar wind and plasma spectrometer (SWAP), 6) energetic particle spectrometer (PEPSSI) and 7) space dust counter (SDC).
Spacecraft Dimensions: The primary structure is 0.7 m (27 inches) tall, 2.1 m (83 inches) long and 2.7 m (108 inches) at its widest.
Spacecraft Power: One Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
Maximum Power: 240 watts
Antenna Diameter: 2.1-m (83-inch)
Project Manager: Glen Fountain
Principal Investigator: Alan Stern
Total Cost: About $700 million (including spacecraft and instrument development, launch vehicle, mission operations, data analysis, and education/public outreach) over the period 2001-2016.
New Horizons Launch Press Kit, NASA, January 2006
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will make the first ever close-up study of Pluto, its moons, and the worlds within the Kuiper Belt at the edge of our solar system. When it encounters Pluto, the unmanned spacecraft will use its seven scientific instruments to study the atmospheres, surfaces, interiors and intriguing environments around Pluto and its moons. New Horizons will also map Pluto's far-side, and look for evidence of rings and magnetic fields around Pluto and its largest moon Charon. The spacecraft will then venture on to study more objects within the Kuiper Belt.
The 465 Kilogram (1,025 pound) spacecraft was launched via an Atlas V 551 rocket on January 19, 2006, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. A Centaur second stage and STAR 48B solid rocket third stage pushed New Horizons towards its first rendezvous.
On February 28, 2007, just 13 months after launch, the New Horizons spacecraft passed our solar system's largest planet Jupiter, picking up new scientific data, as well as a powerful slingshot-like gravity assist that trimmed three years off the spacecraft's journey to Pluto and beyond.
During the Jupiter flyby, New Horizons observed lightning near the gas giant's poles, the creation of fresh ammonia clouds, and boulder-size clumps speeding through Jupiter's faint rings. The spacecraft also collected data on volcanic eruptions on Jupiter's moon Io, and the path of charged particles moving back and forth across the -- previously unexplored -- length of Jupiter's long magnetic tail.
New Horizons also collected information that supports the theory that Jupiter's moon Europa has an ocean of liquid water underneath its icy crust. Images from the flyby show odd concentric circles on the ice, evidence of wandering poles. New Horizons also completed the mapping of a long trench, first seen by the Voyager spacecraft in 1979.
The spacecraft will sleep while slowly spinning during most of its eight-year interplanetary trek from Jupiter to Pluto. Mission controllers on Earth will wake up New Horizons for 50 days each year to perform necessary checkups on its instruments.
In 2014, the spacecraft will wake up to prepare for its 2015 encounter with Pluto and its moons. At this time, mission controllers will check instruments and send New Horizons instructions for the flyby.
In July 2015, New Horizons will encounter Pluto. During the 150-day flyby, New Horizons will be moving at a speed of 14 kilometers per second (31,300 miles per hour). At closest approach, the spacecraft will be within 9,650 kilometers (about 6,000 miles) of the center of Pluto's mass.
In the final phase of its mission, New Horizons will head deeper into the Kuiper Belt in search of icy comets and objects that may be the original source of water in our solar system. The largest structure in our planetary system, the Kuiper Belt is believed to be the source of short-term comets (those with orbits of 200 years or less), and may be home to more than 100,000 miniature worlds larger than 100 kilometers.
New Horizons carries seven scientific instruments to study the surfaces of Pluto, its moons, and any Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons encounters. The spacecraft's most prominent design feature is a nearly 7-foot (2.1-meter) dish antenna, through which it will communicate with Earth from as far as 4.7 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) away. New Horizons includes a visible and infrared imager/spectrometer (RALPH), an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer (ALICE), a radio science experiment for studying atmospheres (REX), a telescopic camera (LORRI), a solar wind and plasma spectrometer (SWAP), an energetic particle spectrometer (PEPSSI) and a space dust counter (SDC).
New Horizons was the first mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program of medium-class spacecraft exploration projects. Dr. Alan Stern leads the mission and science team as principal investigator; the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The mission team includes Ball Aerospace Corporation, the Boeing Company, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Stanford University, KinetX Inc. (Navigation team), Lockheed Martin Corporation, University of Colorado, the U.S. Department of Energy, and a number of other firms, NASA centers and university partners.