Space Robotics

New Horizons Pluto Spacecraft Launched!

Posted 19 Jan 2006 at 20:29 UTC by The Swirling Brain Share This

After two days of delays, the Pluto spacecraft named New Horizons launched on board a powerful Atlas V rocket just moments ago (as seen on NASA's live feed). The craft's flight will take about 9 years and travel over 3 billion miles to flyby Pluto and its moon Charon around July 2015! Within 10 hours of launch, the craft will speed past Earth's moon at roughly 36,000 miles per hour. The craft will be the fastest spacecraft ever slingshotting around Jupiter for a gravity assist and reaching a speed of around 47K (BBC says 56K) miles per hour which is more than 10 times faster than a speeding bullet. The craft will also try to visit one or more of the icy Kuiper Belt Objects if there is an extended mission. The cost of the New Horizons mission is nearly $700 million! Pluto is our only Solar system planet that hasn't been visited by a spacecraft from Earth. This mission has been "on again off again" for many years as you probably remember some of our stories on the mission status, but finally the craft has been built and launched. Hopefully it's not too late for the craft to arrive before Pluto's atmosphere freezes and if that happens it won't unfreeze for another 200 years. And of course, some people wish they could send their enemies to Pluto.

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