Out in the Edgeworth–Kuiper belt


in Bombs and rockets, Geek stuff, History, Science, Space and flight

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has been returning some exciting data, after a long flight through the solar system:

This documentary provides illuminating background on the mission: The Year of Pluto.

It is much to be hoped that the New Horizons craft will be able to observe other Kuiper belt objects.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

. July 16, 2015 at 12:25 am

NASA engineers managed to get the tiny probe — about the size and shape of a grand piano — to an incredibly precise spot in space, using Jupiter’s gravity as a slingshot to accelerate it outward and a few thruster burns over the years to keep the probe on track.

. August 30, 2015 at 1:35 am

New Horizons has a new possible destination after its historic Pluto flyby this past summer. A small Kuiper Belt object called 2014 MU69, almost a billion miles past Pluto.

Scientist have been searching for a viable flyby object since 2011 using ground-based telescopes, but the Hubble Space Telescope was the key to finding five options within New Horizons’ flight path. The Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 was later identified as one of two objects New Horizons can reach with its remaining fuel. The spacecraft is designed to last for many years past its flyby date.


. August 30, 2015 at 1:38 am

“2014 MU69 is a great choice because it is just the kind of ancient KBO, formed where it orbits now, that the Decadal Survey desired us to fly by,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern. “Moreover, this KBO costs less fuel to reach [than other candidate targets], leaving more fuel for the flyby, for ancillary science, and greater fuel reserves to protect against the unforeseen.”

. January 3, 2016 at 1:17 am

Eventually, their labors paid off. On Dec. 22, the Department of Energy announced that researchers at Oak Ridge had managed to produce 50 grams of plutonium-238 — a feat that hasn’t been performed since production was halted at Savannah River.

It’s a big step forward for future space missions. Currently, there are only about 35 kilograms (or around 77 pounds) of stored plutonium-238 left, and only half of that is immediately usable. As the fuel ages, it cools off and becomes less useful — but Onuschak said that old fuel can be mixed with new fuel as it’s produced to extend the substance’s life.

What’s available now will still be enough to get NASA through its next planned Mars mission — the Mars 2020 rover — but if NASA wants to continue sending missions like New Horizons into deep space, it will need new stores of fuel in the future.

Researchers at Oak Ridge plan to collaborate with facilities at Idaho National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory to begin scaling up production, Wham said. By the end of the decade, they’re hoping to be producing several hundred grams of fuel per year — and by the early 2020s, they hope to be up to a kilogram and a half.


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