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Space exploration - NASA's New Horizons unmanned spacecraft approaching Pluto and Charon; space probe; New Frontiers; spacecraft; spaceship; aerospace; astrodynamics; radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG); General Purpose Heat Source (GPHS); GPHS-RTG; high-gain antenna (HGA); low-gain antennas (LGA); medium-gain antennas (MGA); Kuiper belt objects; plutoids; trans-Neptunian objects  - Space Art Illustration

New Horizons approaching Pluto & Charon

NASA’s New Horizons unmanned spacecraft approaches dwarf planet Pluto and its moon Charon. New Horizons was launched from Earth in 2006 and made its closest approach to Pluto on 14 July 2015 passing 7,800 miles above Pluto's surface at a velocity of 51,000 mph.

New Horizons is about the size and shape of a grand piano and weighed 1,054 pounds at launch. The high-gain dish antenna is about 7 feet in diameter and is employed for communication with the Earth.

In this image the New Horizons spacecraft is about 15,000 miles from Pluto (upper right), 27,000 miles from its largest moon Charon (lower left) and 2.97 billion miles from the Earth. This side of the spacecraft on the left can be seen the Visible/Near Infrared Multi-Spectral Imager and the Short Wavelength Infrared Spectral Imager (aka  "Ralph"), and the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (aka "Alice"). On the right extending about four feet from the main body of the spacecraft is the radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) which provides constant electric power for the 10 year mission from heat produced by 24 pounds of plutonium-238.

Having passed Pluto, New Horizons is currently on its way to a January 2019 encounter with a classical Kuiper belt object (cubewano) named 2014 MU69.

This illustration was created prior to New Horizon's reconnaissance of Pluto and therefore does not necessarily depict what is now known about Pluto's appearance.


Copyright Walter B. Myers. All rights reserved.

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