NASA has agreed to extend the New Horizons spacecraft through the end of this decade to support “multidisciplinary” science that could include another close pass of a Kuiper belt object. NASA announced Sept. 29 that it will continue operating New Horizons, which is currently certified for operations, through the end of fiscal year 2024 until the spacecraft exits the Kuiper Belt, which is expected to occur later this decade. The focus of the mission, which will begin in fiscal year 2025, will be to collect heliophysical data as the spacecraft exits the Solar System.
However, the arrangement will allow the spacecraft to make another flyby of the Kuiper Belt, similar to the Arrokot flyby it completed in early 2019. Although no known objects are currently within range of New Horizons, “this new path allows the spacecraft to be used for close flybys of such an object in the future,” NASA said in a statement announcing the extension.
“The New Horizons mission is uniquely positioned in our solar system to answer important questions about our heliosphere and provide extraordinary interdisciplinary science opportunities to NASA and the science community,” Nicola Fox, NASA deputy administrator for science, said in a statement from the agency. . “The agency has determined that it is best to continue operating New Horizons until the spacecraft exits the Kuiper Belt, which is expected in 2028-2029.”
The future of New Horizons was thrown into doubt when NASA decided to extend the mission, part of NASA’s Planetary Sciences Division, only through 2024 and offered to transfer it to NASA’s Heliophysics Division. The move was rejected by the mission’s principal investigator, Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, who argued that the move prevented the original mission team from further work in planetary science.
“We think this is shortsighted,” he said at a May meeting of NASA’s advisory committee, the Exoplanet Assessment Group. “This was the only mission ever sent, and the only mission planned to study the Kuiper Belt, and we’re still there.”
Although both agency officials and Stern said in May that this did not mean the mission would end after 2024, the project team refused to submit a proposal for this entirely heliophysical mission, leaving NASA in a difficult situation.
In his social media post following NASA’s announcement, Stern thanked Fox and the agency for the new expanded mission decision. “We are excited to continue exploring the Kuiper Belt and the outer heliosphere, two amazing scientific areas pioneered by NASA,” he said. The new, expanded mission will be jointly managed by NASA’s Heliophysics and Planetary Sciences divisions, but will be “primarily” funded by Planetary Science, NASA said.
“NASA will evaluate the budget impact of expanding the New Horizons mission beyond its original research plan,” the agency said, noting that the extension could impact funding for research and analysis of the New Frontiers planetary mission line, which includes New Horizons. NASA added that “this may impact future projects.”
NASA spent $9.5 million on New Horizons in 2022 and proposed spending $9.7 million on the mission in its fiscal 2024 budget proposal. Source
Source: Port Altele
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