NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has carried out the first in a series of four initial targeting manoeuvre designed to send it toward 2014 MU69 – a small Kuiper Belt object about a billion miles beyond Pluto, which the spacecraft historically explored in July.
The manoeuvre, which started at approximately 1:50pm EDT (6:50 pm BST) on 22 October, used two of the spacecraft’s small hydrazine-fuelled thrusters, lasted approximately 16 minutes and changed the spacecraft’s trajectory by about 10 metres per second. Spacecraft operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, began receiving data through NASA’s Deep Space Network at approximately 8:30pm EDT (1:30am BST on 23 October) that indicated a successful manoeuvre.
The four manoeuvre will change New Horizons’ trajectory by approximately 57 metres per second, nudging it toward a prospective close encounter with MU69 on 1 January 2019. That flyby would be part of an extended mission that NASA still must approve – the New Horizons team will submit a formal proposal to NASA for that mission in early 2016.
The remaining three Kuiper Belt object targeting manoeuvre are scheduled for 25 October, 28 October and 4 November.
New Horizons is approximately 119 million kilometres (74 million miles) beyond Pluto and 5.08 billion kilometres (3.16 billion miles) from Earth. The spacecraft is healthy and continues to return data stored on its digital recorders from its flight through the Pluto system on 14 July 2015.