NASA Spacecraft En Route To Pluto Prepares For Jupiter Encounter

Science Daily NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is on the doorstep of the solar system’s largest planet. The spacecraft will study and swing past Jupiter, increasing speed on its voyage toward Pluto, the Kuiper Belt and beyond.

The fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons will make its closest pass to Jupiter on Feb. 28, 2007. Jupiter’s gravity will accelerate New Horizons away from the sun by an additional 9,000 miles per hour, pushing it past 52,000 mph and hurling it toward a pass through the Pluto system in July 2015.

“Our highest priority is to get the spacecraft safely through the gravity assist and on its way to Pluto,” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo. “We also have an incredible opportunity to conduct a real-world encounter stress test to wring out our procedures and techniques, and to collect some valuable science data.”

The New Horizons mission team will use the flyby to put the probe’s systems and seven science instruments through the paces of more than 700 observations of Jupiter and its four largest moons. The planned observations from January through June include scans of Jupiter’s turbulent, stormy atmosphere; a detailed survey of its ring system; and a detailed study of Jupiter’s moons.

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