New Horizons and Longevity Planning

Public domain image courtesy of NASA

After nearly 10 years in space, the New Horizons mission will reach Pluto and its moons in a few days time. No, there’s no 1802 on board this one, but frequent forum member Steve Gemeny led the team that “developed, deployed, operated  and maintained the ground system that handled (and still handles) all commands and telemetry for the spacecraft.”

Beyond that, Steve drew some inspiration for mission planning from his experience with vintage computing equipment. You can read his paper A Tale of Two Processors on this website. When it takes more than a decade to go from planning a mission to a critical window of observation, you’d better have some contingencies in place to make sure old hardware, software, and knowledge have been well preserved.

Tenuous as the link to COSMAC microcomputing may be, the New Horizons mission is just plain cool and we share Steve’s excitement about the upcoming encounter. According to Steve’s post, “On Tuesday July 14th at 11:49:57 UTC (7:49:57 EDT) New Horizons will make its closest approach to Pluto with a flyby speed of about 32,50 0 MPH (5 2,300 KPH) and a close-approach of approximately 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface.  Additional science will be conducted for another 2 and a half hours as the spacecraft passes through the shadow of both Pluto and the moon Charon. The 16 GByte of data to be collected during the entire encounter period (spanning several weeks on either side of Close approach) will be returned at ~1000 Bits per second over the next 9 months.”

Forum member Mark Thomas pointed out this video showing the path of the space craft and its maneuvers during the observation window:

Update July 14, 2015: New Horizons is healthy and outbound from Pluto, with the expected amount of data collected. Congratulations to the New Horizons team!

© Dave Ruske 2001-2017, except where noted