Speedy Spacecraft Now Halfway to Pluto

A speedy NASA spacecraft is halfway to Pluto and on track for a 2015 rendezvous with the distant, icy world.

As of Tuesday, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft was currently about 1.527 billion miles (2.463 billion km) from Earth and 1.526 billion miles (2.462 billion km) from the Pluto system, making it closer to the edge of the solar system than to home. The probe is due to fly by the dwarf planet and its moons on July 14, 2015 before heading further out into the Kuiper Belt at the outskirts of the solar system.

“This is the first of several milestones over the next 10 months that mark the halfway points in our journey to the solar system’s frontier, where Pluto lies,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado.

New Horizons launched toward Pluto in January 2006 on what NASA has touted as its fastest mission through the solar system.

The spacecraft is just a little past the midpoint between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, and is speeding toward Pluto at a speed of about 750,000 miles (1.2 million km) per day.

New Horizons is currently in hibernation mode, collecting interplanetary dust impact data as it flies. Stern's team plan to wake the craft briefly on Jan. 5 for 10 days of light maintenance and tracking activities.

Other milestones await New Horizons in 2010. On Feb. 25, the probe will have covered half of the actual travel distance of its trip to Pluto. On April 20, it will be at the midpoint between the sun and its rendezvous point with Pluto. And on Oct. 17, the spacecraft will reach the midpoint of its flight time to Pluto, with five more years to go.

Images: New Horizons Bound for Pluto
New Horizons: Voyage To The Edge Of The Solar System
Pluto is Now Just a Number: 134340

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Space.com Staff
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