What Green Beacons from the Kuiper Belt Mean
The Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 may be a double-lobed object or possibly a more spherical one with a chunk missing. The New Horizons spacecraft will fly by this object in January 2019. Courtesy JHU/APL/SWRI/Alex Parker
Every Monday, the spacecraft team for the New Horizons mission “listens” for a signal from their fast-moving spacecraft. This grand-piano-sized probe is on its way to another object in the Kuiper Belt, called MU69. These beacons are important because they are the only signal the team gets while New Horizons is in hibernation. That means most (if not all) of its systems are powered down or in very limited-use mode. It conserves energy, equipment, and wear and tear on the electronics on the spacecraft while it’s en route to its next target.
Once the beacon is received, the team can get back to work on their planning. Alan Stern, PI of the team, usually tweets a “green beacon” announcement, letting the rest of the world know all is well. He described the beacon process in a “PI’s Perspective” blog entry in 2008.
What New Horizons Beacon Tones Mean
There are several beacon tones that New Horizons ...