WASHINGTON — NASA has agreed to extend operations of its New Horizons spacecraft until later this decade to support “interdisciplinary” science that could include another flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.
NASA announced on September 29 that it will extend the New Horizons mission, currently approved for operations through the end of fiscal year 2024, until the spacecraft exits the Kuiper Belt, which is expected to happen around the end of the decade. The focus of the mission, which begins in fiscal year 2025, will be collecting heliophysics data as the spacecraft exits the solar system.
However, this arrangement would allow the spacecraft to perform another flyby of the Kuiper Belt, such as the flyby of Arrokoth it performed in early 2019. Although there are no currently known objects within New Horizons’ range, “this new path allows for the possibility of using “The spacecraft will conduct a close flyby of such an object in the future, if it is identified,” 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 exceptional opportunities for interdisciplinary science for NASA and the scientific community,” Nicola Fuchs, NASA’s associate administrator for science, said in the agency’s statement. . “The agency has decided that it is best to extend New Horizons operations until the spacecraft exits the Kuiper Belt, which is expected in 2028 through 2029.”
The future of New Horizons was thrown into doubt after NASA chose to extend the mission, part of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, only until 2024, and then proposed moving it to NASA’s Heliophysics Division. The move was rejected by the mission’s principal investigator, Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, who said the move would rule out any additional planetary science work by the original mission team.
“We think this is short-sighted,” he said at a meeting of the Exoplanet Assessment Group, a NASA advisory committee, in May. “It was the only mission ever sent and the only mission planned to study the Kuiper Belt, and we are still there.”
The project team declined to submit a proposal for a heliophysics-only mission, putting NASA in a bind, though agency officials and Stern said in May that didn’t mean the mission would end after 2024, he said.
Stern, V Posted on social media After NASA’s announcement, he thanked Fox and the agency for its decision on a new extended mission. “We are excited to continue exploring the Kuiper Belt and the heliosphere, two exciting scientific areas that NASA is at the forefront of,” he said.
The new expanded mission will be jointly managed by NASA’s heliophysics and planetary sciences divisions, but will be funded “primarily” by planetary sciences, NASA said.
“NASA will evaluate the budget impact of continuing the New Horizons mission beyond its original plan of exploration,” the agency stated, noting that the extension could impact research and analysis funding for the New Frontiers line of planetary missions that include New Horizons. NASA added that “future projects may be affected.”
NASA spent $9.5 million on New Horizons in 2022 and proposed spending $9.7 million on the mission in its fiscal year 2024 budget proposal.
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