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How NASA New Horizons Probe Was Designed

'Voyager' The NASA probe on a mission

How NASA New Horizons Probe Was Designed

How NASA New Horizons Probe Was Designed
How NASA New Horizons Probe Was Designed

NASA’S New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe launched as part of NASA’s new frontiers program engineered by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), with a team led by S.Alan stem.

Just before 2015, an innovation to perform a ‘flyby’ study of the Pluto system and to fly by and study one or more other Kuiper belt objects in the next decade started. The innovation led to the making of the New Horizons probe which was launched on January 19, 2006.

It happens to be the fifth space probe to achieve the escape velocity needed to leave the solar system.

During its launching, the space probe successfully launched from Cape Canaveral Air force Station by an Atlas V.rocket directly into an earth-and-solar escape trajectory with a speed of about 16.26km/s. as of then, it was the fastest probe ever launched from earth.

It made its closest approach on February 28, 2007, at a distance of 2.3 million kilometers, after a brief encounter with asteroid 132524 APL before it proceeded to Jupiter. 

The Jupiter flyby provided gravitational assistance that increased its speed. The flyby also enabled a general test of the new horizons’ scientific capabilities, returning data about the planet’s atmosphere, moons, and magnetosphere.

On July 14, 2015, at 11.49 UTC, New horizons flew at 12,500 km (7,800ml) above the surface of Pluto, making it the first spacecraft to explore the dwarf planet. On October 25, 2016, the last recorded data from Pluto flyby was received from the new horizons. 

After the completion of its tasks, it maneuvered for a flyby of Kuiper belt object which the recorded data was obtained on January 1, 2019, when it was 43.4 AU from the Sun.

On August 3018, the data obtained from the New Horizons was used to confirm the existence of a ‘hydrogen wall’ at the outer edges of the solar system. The wall was first detected in 1992 by the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft.

The goal of sending the new horizons into space is to understand the formation of the Plutonian system, the Kuiper belt, and the transformation of the early Solar system.

It has collected data on Pluto’s atmospheres, interiors, and environments and its moons. It will also study other objects in the Kuiper belt. In terms of compar5ison, New Horizons gathered 5,000 times as much data at Pluto as Mariner did at the red planet.

In its design and construction, the spacecraft can be compared to a piano glued to a cocktail bar-sized satellite dish, they are comparable both in size and general shape.

During construction, the engineers took their inspiration from the Ulysses spacecraft, which also carried a radioscope thermoelectric generator (RTG) and the dish on a box-in-box structure through the outer solar system, which in turn had heritage from APL’s TIMED spacecraft.

In terms of comparison, the New Horizons has triangular forms in its shape which measures almost 0.76 m (2.5 ft.) thick. Whereas, the Pioneers have hexagonal bodies. The Voyagers, Galileo, and Cassin-Huygens have decagonal hollow bodies.

A 2075 aluminum alloy tube forms the main structural column, between the launch vehicle adapter ring at the ‘rear’ and the 2.1m (6 ft. 11 in) radio dish antenna affixed to the ‘front’ flat side.

The Titanium fuel tank is in the tube. The RTG attaches with a 4-sided titanium mount resembling a gray pyramid or stepstool. Titanium provides strength and thermal isolation.

Meanwhile, the remaining triangle shape is primarily sandwich panels of thin aluminum face sheet less than 1/64 in or 0.40 mm bonded to an aluminum honeycomb core.

The structure’s major purpose in construction design is to act as shielding, reducing electronic errors caused by radiation from the RTG.

Also, the mass distribution required for a spinning spacecraft demands a wider triangle.

In order to equalize temperature by radiative heat transfer, the interior structure is painted black.

While the overall parts of the spacecraft are thoroughly blanketed to retain heat. The radio dish is also enclosed in blankets that extend to the body just like those of Pioneers and Voyagers.

The heat from the RTG adds warmth to the spacecraft while it is in the outer solar system. While in the inner solar system, the spacecraft must prevent overheating.

Hence, electronic activity is limited, power is diverted to shunts with attached radiators, and louvers are opened to radiate excess heat.

If the spacecraft is cruising inactively in the cold outer solar system, the louvers will be closed and the shunts regulator reroutes power to electric heaters.

In terms of propulsion and attitude control, it has both spin-stabilized cruise and three-axis stabilized science modes controlled generally with hydrazine monopropellant.

Additional post-launch delta-v of over 290 m/s is provided by a 77 kg internal tank. Helium is used as a pressurant, with an elastomeric diaphragm assisting expulsion.

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