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Fine-Tuning New Horizons’ Trajectory

8 Oct 2018, 13:52 UTC
Fine-Tuning New Horizons’ Trajectory
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

I love the timing of New Horizons’ next encounter, just as we begin a new year in 2019. On the one hand, we’ll be able to look back to a mission that has proven successful in some ways beyond the dreams of its creators. On the other hand, we’ll have the first close-up brush past a Kuiper Belt Object, 2014 MU69 or, as it’s now nicknamed, Ultima Thule. This farthest Solar System object ever visited by a spacecraft may, in turn, be followed by yet another still farther, if all goes well and the mission is extended. This assumes, of course, another target in range.
We can’t rule out a healthy future for this spacecraft after Ultima Thule. Bear in mind that New Horizons seems to be approaching its current target along its rotational axis. That could reduce the need for additional maneuvers to improve visibility for the New Horizons cameras, saving fuel for later trajectory changes if indeed another target can be found. The current mission extension ends in 2021, but another extension would get a powerful boost if new facilities like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope become available, offering more capability at tracking down an appropriate KBO. Hubble ...

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