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New horizons (NASA)

New Horizons is a NASA unmanned spacecraft designed to fly by Pluto and its moons (including Charon) and transmit images and data back to Earth. Mission planners hope that NASA will approve plans to continue the mission with a fly-by of a Kuiper Belt Object and return further data. A consortium of organizations, led by Southwest Research Institute and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, has built the craft. The mission's principal investigator is S. Alan Stern of Southwest Research. The probe successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 14:00 EST January 19, 2006 and flew past Jupiter on February 28, 2007 for a gravity assist.

The primary scientific objectives are to characterize the global geology and morphology and map the surface composition of Pluto and Charon, and study the neutral atmosphere of Pluto and its escape rate. Other objectives include studying time variability of Pluto's surface and atmosphere; imaging and mapping areas of Pluto and Charon at high-resolution; characterizing Pluto's upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and energetic particle environment; searching for an atmosphere around Charon; refining bulk parameters of Pluto and Charon; and searching for additional satellites and rings.

This article is about the space probe. For other uses, see New Horizons (disambiguation).

New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as a part of NASA's New Frontiers program. Engineered by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), with a team led by S. Alan Stern, the spacecraft was launched in 2006 with the primary mission to perform a flyby study of the Pluto system in 2015, and a secondary mission to fly by and study one or more other Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) in the decade to follow, which as of 2019 includes 2014 MU69. It is the fifth space probe to achieve the escape velocity needed to leave the Solar System.

On January 19, 2006, New Horizons was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by an Atlas V rocket directly into an Earth-and-solar escape trajectory with a speed of about 16.26 km/s (10.10 mi/s; 58,500 km/h; 36,400 mph). It was the fastest man-made object ever launched from Earth. After a brief encounter with asteroid 132524 APL, New Horizons proceeded to Jupiter, making its closest approach on February 28, 2007, at a distance of 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles). The Jupiter flyby provided a gravity assist that increased New Horizons' speed; the flyby also enabled a general test of New Horizons' scientific capabilities, returning data about the planet's atmosphere, moons, and magnetosphere.

Most of the post-Jupiter voyage was spent in hibernation mode to preserve on-board systems, except for brief annual checkouts. On December 6, 2014, New Horizons was brought back online for the Pluto encounter, and instrument check-out began. On January 15, 2015, the spacecraft began its approach phase to Pluto.

On July 14, 2015, at 11:49 UTC, it flew 12,500 km (7,800 mi) above the surface of Pluto, making it the first spacecraft to explore the dwarf planet. On October 25, 2016, at 21:48 UTC, the last of the recorded data from the Pluto flyby was received from New Horizons. Having completed its flyby of Pluto, New Horizons then maneuvered for a flyby of Kuiper belt object (486958) 2014 MU69 "Ultima Thule", which occurred on January 1, 2019, when it was 43.4 AU from the Sun. In August 2018, NASA cited results by Alice on New Horizons to confirm the existence of a "hydrogen wall" at the outer edges of the Solar System. This "wall" was first detected in 1992 by the two Voyager spacecraft.