NASA spacecraft approaching Pluto
Sunday, January 19, 2014, 8:11 AM -
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is making its way toward Pluto.
The spacecraft is the fastest ever built, travelling one million miles per day (or approximately 67,000 km/h). It launched in 2006 and by February 2007 had made it to Jupiter. New Horizons will make its closest approach to Pluto around July 2015 but should be ready to start sending back pictures of the former planet by January 2015.
When we launched, Pluto was 1.2 billion kilometers from where it is now. Pluto now has just 200 million km to go to meet us in 18 months.— NewHorizons2015 (@NewHorizons2015) January 19, 2014
Pictures of the planet will be taken using Long Range Reconnaissance Imager or LORRI and will be plotted against known background star fields. This will help the experts determine the distance of the spacecraft to the dwarf planet and allow them to refine the trajectory by activating the engines.
The mission is not without its challenges. Since Pluto is at a great distance from the Sun, the extreme conditions the spacecraft is subject to mean it has to be durable. The spacecraft and the instruments must also have a long lifetimes to be able to last during the long trip.
After Pluto, the spacecraft will go on to explore the Kuiper Belt. The exploration of this region of the Solar System is one of the reasons why New Horizons won't orbit around Pluto. Another reason making such an objective possible is the incredible speed with which its travelling. For it to be able to orbit around the dwarf planet it would have to decrease its speed by about 90 per cent.
The mission will cost approximately $700 million. Many consider this to be one of those most exciting moments in space exploration since the Marine 4 flew past Mars nearly 50 years ago.