NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has completed half of its journey from Pluto to next flyby target- 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt object (KBO). The probe will fly past the object on January 1, 2019, stated NASA. The spacecraft reached 486.19 million miles (782.45 million kilometers) beyond Pluto on April 3 at midnight (UTC).
“It’s fantastic to have completed half the journey to our next flyby; that flyby will set the record for the most distant world ever explored in the history of civilization,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
On April 7, the spacecraft will also reach halfway point in time between closest approaches to Pluto, which occurred on July 14, 2015, and MU69, predicted for 2 a.m. ET on New Year’s Day 2019.
“New Horizons will begin a new period of hibernation later this week. In fact, the spacecraft will be sleeping through the April 7 halfway timing marker to MU69, because mission operators at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, will have put the spacecraft into hibernation two hours beforehand.”
After making its historic Pluto encounter, New Horizons has made breakthrough, distant observations of a dozen Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) and has collected unique data on the dust and charged-particle environment of the Kuiper Belt. The spacecraft also studied the hydrogen gas that permeates the vast space surrounding the sun, called the heliosphere. New Horizons is currently 3.5 billion miles (5.7 billion kilometers) from Earth and according to NASA, all systems are healthy and operating normally.
“The January 2019 MU69 flyby is the next big event for us, but New Horizons is truly a mission to more broadly explore the Kuiper Belt,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from APL, in Laurel, Maryland. “In addition to MU69, we plan to study more than two-dozen other KBOs in the distance and measure the charged particle and dust environment all the way across the Kuiper Belt.”