Three and a half years after it nailed a perfect flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto and its five moons, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to make history once again just after midnight Eastern Standard Time on 1 January 2019 when the spacecraft performs a flyby of Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69.
The flyby will mark the farthest solar system object encounter in history, with New Horizons on a trajectory designed to ensure its safety while maximizing scientific returns from this distant, mysterious, and primal remnant of the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.
Time of closest approach will come at 00:33 EST (0533 UTC) while the spacecraft is purposely not communicating with Earth. Confirmation of a successful flyby is expected to be received through the Deep Space Network on Earth at 10:28 EST (1528 UTC) – 10 hours after the flyby.
But investigating 2014 MU69 during the flyby will not be as easy as it was with Pluto because the exact position of MU69 is unknown, meaning the New Horizons team has had to plan an observation sequence for the spacecraft to account for all possible locations of the object in New Horizons’ instrument’s field ...