Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft after its fly-by Pluto phase has begun the ambitious one-year long intensive downlinking of the tens of gigabits of data it collected over the years.
Currently, New Horizons spacecraft is hurtling through the Kuiper Belt, a cold, dark realm of tiny, icy objects, but its cameras have been turned off as there’s nothing to see on the way. Hence, the time is apt for dowlinking all the data for NASA now.
Beginning 5th September, 2015 it will downlink the images, other data that will help us understand the origin and the evolution of the Pluto system, said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.
“What’s coming is not just the remaining 95% of the data that’s still aboard the spacecraft—it’s the best datasets, the highest-resolution images and spectra, the most important atmospheric datasets, and more. It’s a treasure trove,” said Stern. As the spacecraft is moving at light speed, the radio signals from New Horizons spacecraft to transmit data will take more than four and a half hours to reach Earth about 3 billion miles apart.
New Horizons was designed to quickly take as much information as possible about Pluto in its fastest fly-by phase that covered its moons as well and once it crossed Pluto, it gets into transmission mode to send the data to Earth.
Since September 5, New Horizons started sending data about the energetic particle, solar wind and space dust instruments to NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) of antenna stations at a rate of 1-4 Kbps, far slower than our broadband speed.
“From the small amount of data we saw around the Pluto flyby, we know the results to come will be well worth the wait,” said Hal Weaver, scientist from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.
— NASA New Horizons (@NASANewHorizons) August 28, 2015
Otherwise, last month, the New Horizons team decided to take a shot at a small object, roughly 45 km in diameter and known as 2014 MU69, which it has code-named PT1, or “Potential Target 1”. The spacecraft will fly past PT1 on 1 January 2019.
MU69, discovered last year by the Hubble Space Telescope, is on the path of New Horizons and among many such objects, it remained the most inviting target, requiring the least amount of fuel, said NASA team.