The final bits of science data from New Horizons' Pluto flyby - stored on the spacecraft's digital recorders since July 2015 - have come safely on Earth this week, although it took more than a year, NASA said. A segment of a Pluto-Charon observation sequence taken by the Ralph/LEISA imager, the final item from New Horizons spacecraft travelled over 5.5 billion kilometres to reach earth, told the US Space agency in a statement on October 27.
The downlink came via NASA's Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia. Channeled to Earth by New Horizons over the last 15 months it was the last of the 50-plus total gigabits of Pluto system data.
"We have our pot of gold," said Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.
"There's a great deal of work ahead for us to understand the 400-plus scientific observations that have all been sent to Earth. And that's exactly what we're going to do-after all, who knows when the next data from a spacecraft visiting Pluto will be sent?" Alan Stern, New
Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, added.
New Horizons was designed to gather as much data as possible and as quickly as it could as it had only one shot at its target- taking 100 times more data on focused approach to Pluto and its moons then it could have sent home before flying forth. The programming of the spacecraft was done in a way to send select, high-priority datasets home just before and after close approach, and began the returning the huge amounts of left stored data in September 2015.
Bowman told the team will manage a last data-verification review before eliminating the two onboard recorders, and making space for new data to be taken during the New Horizons Kuiper Belt Extended Mission (KEM).
KEM will include a series of distant Kuiper Belt object observations and a close encounter with a small Kuiper Belt object, 2014 MU69, on January 1, 2019, NASA said.