Back in January 2006, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft was launched to reach Pluto from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Currently, at 3 billion miles away from Earth, the spacecraft is set for a detour to the Kuiper Belt in 2016.
NASA is planning to readjust the course of the spacecraft and make it pass near MU69, an object from Kuiper Belt that, along with Pluto, is believed to be the kind of object that helped building the planets from our solar system.
The initial step of the NASA spacecraft was met, New Horizons successfully made a flyby around the dwarf planet Pluto and took detailed photographs and measurements of the celestial object and its collection of satellites.
A series of maneuvers are planned for October and November this year by the New Horizons team at NASA, which aims to send the car-sized probe towards MU69. Unfortunately, that won’t be enough and the team will need to make a formal proposal in order for the mission to be extended. The formal proposal is scheduled for 2016, and will be evaluated by another team of experts before the team can get NASA’s approval for the detour.
While the agency states they have no fundings yet, the idea whether to approve a mission extension is under debate. John Grunsfeld, the head of NASA’s mission directorate, claims that this secondary mission will be much less expensive than the initial task while still providing humanity fresh and breakthrough scientific findings.
The detour to Kuiper Belt Object MU69 will cost less hydrazine fuel than all other proposed candidates, with the fuel that will remain to be used for auxiliary scientific research, but it could also be used against unpredictable problems.
Although it was not an easy task, the New Horizons team has selected already thought about visiting other objects in the Kuiper Belt, such as the icy bodies that orbit around the boundaries of our Solar System.
Photo credits: Wikipedia