It’s Not Just About Mars Anymore!
Yes, Mars and even Saturn have been front and center in the Astronomy world all summer long. They have been hogging the spotlight!
But I say that this has been the case only because New Horizons has been asleep. Comatose, I say! Ever since it passed by Jupiter, the 6 foot spacecraft has had little to do but sleep and well, hibernate actually, spinning passively as it passed the orbit of Saturn recently. It’s been in a suspended state quite busily not using up fuel and electricity.
Two weeks ago the the ground crew at APL in Laurel MD. woke the spacecraft up, gave it a check-up, and then did major brain surgery on two of its processors.
The first major order of business in New Horizons’ second annual checkout was accomplished as planned, as operators uploaded an upgraded version of the software that runs the spacecraft’s Command and Data Handling system.
And after the C&DH system was replaced, the same treatment was given to it the Guidance and Control (G&C) system. And even the fabled Autonomy system (shorten form of Autonomous Control System) was upgraded to version 16 (New Horizons launched with version 13, and was upgraded days later with v. 14, which had several launch-only rules removed). Several enhancements have been put in place, and a few annoying bugs have been removed. All in all, the operation took over 43 hours of Deep-Space Network time, and all indications are that the patient – uh spacecraft – is healthy and operating normally.
So what’s next? First, all the instruments are given a complete exam, except the Student Dust Collector (SDC), which has been in operation all along. After that New Horizons goes back to sleep, of course.