Pluto probe back on track for encounter in nine days

New Horizons continues to approach dwarf planet despite computer glitch

Photo by: NASA
Photo by: NASA

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The spacecraft New Horizons which is closing in on Pluto is back on track for the closest flyby of the planet so far, after it stopped relaying observations for almost three days, NASA said on Monday.

On Saturday the Pluto probe experienced an anomaly and went into safe mode which shut down radio communications for 81 minutes.

The principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, Alan Stern, told reporters on Monday that 30 observations out of 496 were lost due to the hiccup.

“While we would prefer that this event had not happened, I can tell you… this is a speed bump in terms of the total return that we expect from this flyby,” Professor Stern said.

Project manager Glen Fountain said that the problem occurred when earth controllers accidentally overloaded the probe’s computer by attempting to compress data while at the same time installing an operating sequence for the Pluto encounter.

“These events that came together, both the compression of a lot of data and a burn to flash - those two events will not happen concurrently again,” he said.

New Horizons will be at its closest point to Pluto on July 14 when it will be travelling 12,500 kilometers from the planet after having completed a nine and a half year and almost 5 billion kilometer journey.

The $728 million mission, launched in January 2006, will deliver the first detailed information about the dwarf planet.

The latest observations of May 29-30 and June 4 by the probe showed that the Pluto system consists of the planet and its five moons - Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx - but that there no rings or undiscovered moons around the planet.

Although Pluto was discovered in the 1930s by Clyde Tombaugh, its fifth moon Styx was identified only recently in 2012.

TRTWorld and agencies