How to see how NASA drives a spacecraft past a rock at the edge of the solar system?
As you ring the bell on Monday night in the New Year, you can also watch NASA send a spaceship to a tiny rock some 4.1 billion miles from Earth. The space agency's New Horizons spacecraft, which flew past Pluto in 2015, will now fly past another object – a kind of space rock we've never been to before. And it's all happening at the beginning of 2019.
Just like the Pluto flyby, the New Horizons mission team is gathered at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Maryland, where they will monitor the spacecraft from the facility Mission Operations Center. Live streams show what the team is planning to do before and during the flyby, and mission scientists will hold press conferences to keep up to date on what New Horizons is up to.
It's all happening at the beginning of 201
9  With the US currently in partial government downturn, there was some confusion about how the public could keep track of this record-breaking event. NASA is one of the federal agencies affected by the closure, which is why its "non-essential employees" have been fired. This includes NASA's public affairs team. For some time, people feared that NASA would not be able to broadcast films about events on their dedicated channel, NASA TV, or update their social media accounts.
"It's ironic: NASA is making the furthest explorations in its history. They had their hands tied behind their backs when they were seized by the government," says Alan Stern, senior investigator of the New Horizons mission,
. The Verge . "We have malfunction for almost everything, but we have not thought of a malfunction for shutting down the government during the flyby."
At the last minute, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine
announced on Twitter that the events will be shown on NASA TV and that the space agency will publicize the mission via its social media accounts would bring the latest. If everything goes according to plan, NASA TV's live stream should be online for both the flyby and accompanying press conferences. Meanwhile, John Hopkins is unaffected by the shutdown and plans to view the events live on his YouTube page. The University also lists a number of links on its website:
As far as the timeline of the flyby is concerned, it begins on December 31st a press conference at 14:00 pm ET. At 12:33 ET on the 1st of January, there will be a number of ceremonies in the Mission Operations Center in honor of the event. But at this point, we do not know exactly if everything went well. Radio communications from the spacecraft take about six hours to reach Earth, and New Horizons sends no signal back to Earth until a few hours after it passes by the rock called Ultima Thule. Sometime between 9:45 and 10:45 CET, the mission team should receive this signal to confirm their success.
"We have not thought of a dysfunction for shutting down the government during the flyby."
Shortly after this confirmation, the New Horizons team will hold a press conference and show some pictures the spacecraft has taken of the flyby , These images are still a bit blurry due to the distance of the vehicle from the object. Once the flyby signal has been received, New Horizons will begin sending its data to Earth. Therefore, on January 2, we should receive the first high-resolution images of space rock.
When New Horizons makes its flyby, it is as far from the object as New York is from LA. From this distance Ultima Thule appears as big as the full moon in the sky here on earth. However, New Horizons has a few high-precision telescopes on board, so we should take some detailed close-up shots, much like shots of the moon taken by powerful telescopes on the ground. "These are tricky images that are made really fast in a critical time window," says Stern. "If that works, we'll have pictures that are a lot more than Pluto."
It will be some time before all the fruits of the flyby are collected. New Horizons will spend up to 20 months linking all the data collected on New Year's Day. Expect amazing pictures during the first week – and many more months afterwards.
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