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New Horizons Spacecraft by NASA Detects Anomaly Ahead of Next Flyby

New Horizons extended mission also includes observations of more than two-dozen other Kuiper Belt objects, as well as measurements of the plasma, gas and dust environment of the Kuiper Belt

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Just days ahead of its New Year’s 2019 close encounter, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has detected an anomaly related to its next flyby target — an icy world a billion kilometres past Pluto and more than 6.5 billion km from Earth.

The New Horizons probe, which flew past Pluto in 2015, is set to encounter the Kuiper Belt object, referred to as 2014 MU69 — nicknamed Ultima Thule.

New Horizons will flyby it on New Year’s Eve and January 1.

Among its approach observations over the past three months, the spacecraft has been taking hundreds of images to measure Ultima’s brightness and how it varies as the object rotates.

The spacecraft has not been able to detect the repeated pulsations in brightness during every rotation produced — what scientists refer to as a light curve — that accompanies all celestial objects in orbit near a bright star.

“It’s really a puzzle,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, a US-based non-profit.

This year NASA discovered few earth like planets. Wikimedia Commons
New Horizons will flyby it on New Year’s Eve and January 1. Wikimedia Commons

“I call this Ultima’s first puzzle — why does it have such a tiny light curve that we can’t even detect it? I expect the detailed flyby images coming soon to give us many more mysteries, but I did not expect this, and so soon.”

The team has various explanations that could explain the tiny, still undetected light curve.

“It’s possible that Ultima’s rotation pole is aimed right at or close to the spacecraft,” said Marc Buie, also from the Institute.

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“Another is it may be surrounded by a cloud of dust that obscures its light curve, much the way a comet’s coma often overwhelms the light reflected by its central nucleus,” said Mark Showalter, from the SETI Institute, another US-based research non-profit.

However, the spacecraft, which would fly about three times closer to MU69 than it did to Pluto in July 2015, would allow cameras to provide a more detailed look that would help decode the anomaly.

New Horizons extended mission also includes observations of more than two-dozen other Kuiper Belt objects, as well as measurements of the plasma, gas and dust environment of the Kuiper Belt. (IANS)

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NASA: Sending Back Astronauts to Moon in 2024 Could Cost About $30 Billion

The entire project will be framed as a practice run for a future mission to Mars

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NASA, which has dubbed its current lunar programme Artemis (after Apollo's twin sister, the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness and the moon), plans to send one male and one female astronaut to the moon in 2024. VOA

Returning astronauts to the moon in 2024 could cost about $30 billion, or roughly the same price tag as the Apollo 11 spaceflight when factoring in inflation, NASA has said.

“For the whole programme, to get a sustainable presence on the moon, we’re looking at between $20 and $30 billion,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a TV interview on Friday, though noting that that figure does not include money already spent on the rocket and space capsule the agency plans to use for the programme, Efe news reported.

The total cost of the Apollo programme that the US launched in 1961 and concluded in 1972 was $25 billion. The climax of that programme came nearly 50 years ago when two astronauts landed on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission, which cost $6 billion at the time, equivalent to $30 billion today.

nasa, moon
Then one male astronaut and – for the first time – a female astronaut would set foot on the lunar surface in 2024. Pixabay

NASA, which has dubbed its current lunar programme Artemis (after Apollo’s twin sister, the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness and the moon), plans to send one male and one female astronaut to the moon in 2024.

Bridenstine recalled that the main difference between the Apollo programme and the Artemis program is that the former culminated with brief stays on the moon while the latter will entail a permanent human presence there.

The plan will involve the recruitment of private companies and international partners, the construction of a lunar space station and manned landings at the moon’s south pole within five years.

NASA, moon
That rocket will send into orbit a new spacecraft known as Orion, whose lead contractor is Lockheed Martin. VOA

The entire project will be framed as a practice run for a future mission to Mars. The programme includes an unmanned mission around the moon in 2020 and a manned mission that also will orbit the moon two years later. Then one male astronaut and – for the first time – a female astronaut would set foot on the lunar surface in 2024.

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The three lunar missions will be delivered into space by the Space Launch System, a rocket being developed by NASA and Boeing that will be the largest ever built once it is fully assembled. That rocket will send into orbit a new spacecraft known as Orion, whose lead contractor is Lockheed Martin.

Besides these missions exclusively handled by NASA, five other launches will be carried out to place in lunar orbit the components for construction of the Gateway mini-space station, which will serve as a staging post for moon landings. Those five missions between 2022 and 2024 will be operated by private companies, according to NASA’s plans. (IANS)