It’s not a secret that until recently, I was working with the New Horizons team at the JHU Applied Physics Lab. on the mission to Pluto. It was a great experience. And on top of the news from the International Planetary Society that New Horizons may not be going to a planet after all, it’s been much in the news of late.
In Feb. 2007, just a little more than one year after its launch, New Horizons will be flying past Jupiter. Not only will the flyby enable the team to fully shake-down the on-board instruments and practice for the Pluto encounter in July of 2015, scientist will use the Jupiter pass to get back a good portion of the data that they could not get from the Galileo mission, which was hampered by a main antenna that was not fully deployed.
And just a little side note: the fact Galileo’s unfolding main antenna did not fully deploy drove one of the earliest design decisions of the New Horizons spacecraft. It’s antenna is solid, and in fact, is not steerable. New Horizons must orient itself to point to the earth. When necessary, like when it’s oriented to point cameras at Pluto, the observations will be recorded and sent to earth through the main antenna later.
New Horizons had its first scare about two weeks ago. After a calibration exercise, the spacecraft was ordered to rotate itself, slew, to point in a specific direction. The motion of the craft, however, caused the Lorri camera to be pointed at the sun for a faction of a second while its door was opened. Well, that’s potentially catastrophic to high-powered cameras like that – that’s how pixels get burned out, permanently. Fortunately, after two weeks of subsequent testing, its been proven that no damage was done (a combination of high slew-rate and good luck that only a very tiny bit of the sun’s disk was within the camera’s view for a very short period of time). There was no detectable damage to the sensors, and even the no-light background rate was unaffected. Yes, there was a big sigh of relief heard coming from APL, and I can guarantee that that particular error won’t happen again.
Anyway, I point your attention to Alan Stern’s (he’s the principle investigator) column P.I. Perspective and Valerie Mallder’s bumper sticker. But that’s only because I’m name-dropping. I worked all last year with Val on the mission test team, and yes, she’s one of the many reasons I had such a great experience there.