NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Takes A ‘Nap’ For 157 Days As It Heads Beyond Pluto [VIDEO]By Mark Spencer, UniversityHerald Reporter
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft entered into a hibernation phase beginning April 7 that will last until September 11, getting a much-deserved rest. The spacecraft will be in sleep mode for the next five months, reducing wear and tear on the probe.
The New Horizons spacecraft acted on commands sent to it by mission controllers at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) the week before, officially entered into hibernation at 3:32 pm EDT. It is currently 3.5 billion miles (5.7 billion kilometers) from Earth and received the signals in over five hours traveling at the speed of light.
New Horizons has been in active mode for the last two and a half years, since Dec. 6, 2014, when the NASA team began final preparations as it approaches Pluto. The spacecraft's hibernation gives an opportunity for the team back here on Earth to analyze data from its Pluto flyby.
Additionally, its five-month rest also allows NASA's Deep Space Network that tracks and communicates with spacecraft's, to focus on other projects. Though on powered down mode, New Horizon's onboard system will send monthly reports regarding its health, back to Earth.
While New Horizons is on a space siesta, the team will be preparing and planning for what happens next when it wakes up. Its current trajectory in the Kuiper Belt is heading for a close encounter with 2014 MU69, set for Jan. 1, 2019, according to NASA.
According to Alice Bowman, APL's New Horizons mission operations manager, they are looking forward into taking advantage of the reduced mission operations workload during New Horizons hibernation. Additionally, they are also looking forward to planning much of the 2014 MU69 flyby.
The nine-day MU69 flyby includes plans to accommodate two potential flyby altitudes; choice of the final altitude will be determined as they learn more about the properties and orbit of the space object which was discovered less than three years ago.
New Horizons has been in sleep mode 18 times since it was launched in 2006. It was awoken from its last hibernation last Dec. 6, 2014 to prepare for its Pluto flyby and has since stayed awake because of it having to send data it gathered on Pluto back to Earth, as well as data about Kuiper Belt objects. Having nothing much on its plate until September, it was placed on an extended nap, according to The Verge.