9 Astronomical Units From Home

New HorizonsThe New Horizons space craft listed two events yesterday, Feb. 21, 2008. First, it reached a minor milestone of making it to the 9 A.U. mark – nine times the distance between the Earth and the Sun. That’s not quite the distance to the orbit of Saturn, but it’s getting there. Oh, if you’re wondering, the current temperature inside the spacecraft itself is still a balmy 25 degress celcius, which is 77 degrees farenheit. That thing has lots of electronics going routinely to keep it warm, as well as thermal blankets and heaters. In fact, the worry at first was that it might be a little too warm immediately after launch.

Secondly, New Horizons is now sleeping peacefully. It was placed (for the second time) into hibernation, where it should be spending most of it’s remaining mission (cheaper that way, you know). According to Principal Investigator Alan Stern, it’s going to be nudged to minimal consciousness on the 24th of this month for a brief checkout, and then put away for a scheduled 89 day snooze, with no one on this planet watching. It’ll wake up on or about May 20th.

Every couple of weeks, the Deep Space Network will spend a few moments to checking to make sure that N.H.’s beacon signal is still “green”, indicating that the spacecraft’s autonomous control system has found no problems. Barring surprises, some light housekeeping duties will be performed then (and possibly uploads of new/updated software – but I don’t see any in the schedule for May) and then, back to hibernation.

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