NASA's Pluto Probe Arrives at Spaceport

NASA's Pluto Probe Arrives at Spaceport
New Horizons has undergone extensive testing at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight center and arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Image credit: John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.)

Aspacecraft bound for Pluto has arrived at NASA's Florida spaceport, bringing itone step closer in its journey toward the distant world.

NASA's NewHorizons space probe arrived at the agency's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) inCape Canaveral, Florida on Saturday and was promptly ushered into a clean room,NASA officials said Monday.

The1,000-pound (453-kilogram) spacecraft is slated ride atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas5 rocket on Jan. 11, 2006 and begin a 10-year journey to Pluto and its moon Charon.

New Horizonsis the first of NASA's medium-class missions to fly under the space agency'sNew Frontiers program.

The probecarries a suite of seven science instruments to study Pluto and Charon duringits fly by past the planet-moon pair. Researchers hope New Horizons will notmap the surface composition of Pluto and Charon, but also record theirtemperatures, geology and landform history, and study Pluto's atmosphere.

NASAofficials said that after the flyby, still more than a decade away, NewHorizons could also visit other rocky objects beyondPluto's orbit during an extended mission.

But first,the spacecraft has months of tests and preparations that must be completedbefore launching from Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Engineersare gearing up for a series of tests and readiness checks, including a fullend-to-end test to verify its compatibility with NASA's Deep Space Network thatwill track the mission, now scheduled for October.

InNovember, the spacecraft's vital hydrazine propellant will be loaded aboard andthe probe will be tested for its spin-balance, NASA officials said. The probe'sAtlas 5 booster will also be stacked by then for a launch countdown rehearsal,they added.

If all goeswell, New Horizons will be integrated into its launch vehicle in December.

Whilemission managers are currently targeting a two-hour window that begins at 2:07p.m. EST (1907 GMT) to loft New Horizons, the flight has a wide, month-longlaunch window that closes on Feb. 14, 2006.

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