NASA extends New Horizons mission

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NASA’s New Horizons, having made flybys of Jupiter in 2007 and Pluto in 2015, has got approval from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)  to extend its mission and go further into the Kuiper Belt to investigate a mysterious object known as 2014 MU69 located deep in the Kuiper Belt.

Currently New Horizons is 3.24 billion miles (5.21 billion km) from Earth and 264 million miles (424.9 million km) beyond Pluto, with all systems healthy and operating normally.

2014 MU69: It is a classical Kuiper belt object ( KBO) discovered in June 2014 by astronomers using the NASA/ ESA Hubble Space Telescope.  It lies about 1.5 billion kilometres beyond Pluto and is roughly 45 kilometres in diameter. It orbits the Sun once every 293 years from about 4.1 billion miles out. It is thought to be like the building blocks of Kuiper Belt’s dwarf planets.

Other key approvals by NASA :

  1. Dawn spacecraft should remain at the dwarf planet Ceres, rather than changing course to the main belt asteroid Adeona.
  2. Extension of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN). 
  3. Extension of the Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rovers, Mars Odyssey orbiter, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
  4. Extension to NASA’s support for the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express mission.

What is New Horizon ?

New HorizonsNew Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched on January 19, 2006, as a part of NASA's New Frontiers program with the primary mission to perform a flyby study of the Pluto system, and a secondary mission to fly by and study one or more other Kuiper belt objects (KBOs).

It is engineered by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). 

On July 14, 2015, it flew 12,500 km (7,800 mi) above the surface of Pluto, making it the first spacecraft to explore the dwarf planet. After completing flyby mission of Pluto, New Horizons has maneuvered for a flyby of KBO 2014 MU69. It expected to take place on January 1, 2019.

What is Kuiper belt ?

New HorizonsThe Kuiper belt is a circumstellar disc in the Solar System, extending from the orbit of Neptune. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but it is far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive.

Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies, or remnants from the Solar System's formation.The Kuiper belt objects (KBO) are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed ‘ices’), such as methane, ammonia and water.

Kuiper belt is home to at least three dwarf planets — Pluto, Haumea and Makemake. Pluto, discovered in 1930, is considered its largest member.

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