Hibernation Over, New Horizons Continues Its Kuiper Belt Cruise

Flight controllers (from left) Katie Bechtold, Ed Colwell and Jon Van Eck, working in the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, confirm data indicating that the New Horizons spacecraft had safely exited hibernation on Sept. 11, 2017. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

September 12, 2017 – A long summer break ended for NASA’s New Horizons on September 11, as the spacecraft “woke” itself on schedule from a five-month hibernation period.

Signals confirming that New Horizons had executed on-board computer commands to exit hibernation reached mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, via NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Madrid, Spain, at 10:55 a.m. MDT. Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of APL confirmed that the spacecraft was in good health and operating normally, with all systems coming back online as expected.

Over the next three days, the mission ops team will bring the spacecraft into “active” mode, preparing it for a series of science-instrument checkouts and data-collection activities that will last until mid-December. “It’s another working science cruise through the Kuiper Belt for New Horizons,” Bowman said.

The Fall Plan

Plenty of activity awaits both the New Horizons team on Earth and the spacecraft over the next several weeks. New Horizons, which is more than 3.6 billion miles (5.8 billion kilometers) from home, is speeding toward a close flyby of Kuiper Belt object (KBO) 2014 MU69 on January 1, 2019.

To prepare, the spacecraft will train its instruments on numerous distant KBOs, making long-distance observations with the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), while also continuously measuring the Kuiper Belt’s radiation, dust, and gas environment. The team also will test the spacecraft’s instruments in preparation for next year’s approach to MU69, and transmit a new suite of fault-protection software – also known as autonomy software – to New Horizons’ computer in early October.

Meanwhile, the science, mission design and operations teams continue to shape the details of MU69 observation plan. On December 9, New Horizons will carry out a course-correction maneuver to set its arrival time at MU69.

On December 22 New Horizons goes back into hibernation, where it will remain until next June 4 – when the team wakes the spacecraft for the last time to begin preparations for the MU69 approach.