In its journey towards outer regions of solar system, US space agency NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has now covered half the distance from Pluto as part of its journey.
The NASA New Horizons spacecraft is now heading towards the Kuiper Belt object (KBO) – 2014 MU69 – which is its next target. According to NASA, the New Horizons probe is scheduled to fly past the KBO on January 1, 2019.
The spacecraft is currently between the Pluto and MU69, 782.45 million kms beyond the two.
"It's fantastic to have completed half the journey to our next flyby; that flyby will set the record for the most distant world ever explored in the history of civilization," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Later this week, NASA New Horizons probe will start a new period of hibernation.
The NASA New Horizons probe will go to sleep through the April 7 halfway timing marker to MU69. The mission operators at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland will be required to put the spacecraft into hibernation two hours beforehand.
NASA New Horizons spacecraft has made breakthroughs, distant observations of a dozen KBOs apart from its historic encounter with Pluto. It has also relayed data from the Pluto encounter back to Earth for 16 subsequent months.
The New Horizons probe has gathered unique data on the dust and charged-particle environment of the Kuiper Belt and also studied the hydrogen gas that permeates the vast space surrounding the Sun, called the heliosphere.
"The January 2019 MU69 flyby is the next big event for us, but New Horizons is truly a mission to more broadly explore the Kuiper Belt," said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist from APL.
"In addition to MU69, we plan to study more than two-dozen other KBOs in the distance and measure the charged particle and dust environment all the way across the Kuiper Belt," Weaver added.
Currently, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is 5.7 billion kms from Earth. A radio signal sent from the operations team - and travelling at light speed - needs about five hours and 20 minutes to reach the spacecraft at that distance.