Those breathtaking images from July’s New Horizons flyby of Pluto? That’s nothing. On Saturday, New Horizons began the second most important part of its mission. Downlinking tens of gigabits worth of data via the Deep Space Network of antennas.
“This is what we came for—these images, spectra and other data types that are going to help us understand the origin and the evolution of the Pluto system for the first time,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern. “And what’s coming is not just the remaining 95 percent of the data that’s still aboard the spacecraft— it’s the best datasets, the highest-resolution images and spectra, the most important atmospheric datasets, and more. It’s a treasure trove. ”
Each bit of information takes more than 4.5 hours to cover the more than 3 billion miles between Earth and New Horizons.
When New Horizons is connected with NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), it will transmit science and operations data. The DSN isn’t just for New Horizons, though. Space agencies around the world use it to keep in contact with various spacecraft around our solar system.
Here’s antenna DSS 15 at the Goldstone Observatory in the Mojave Desert receiving a signal from Rosetta. Check out that blistering down signal data rate of 104.86 kb/sec.
Even Voyager 2 is still sending back data. The DSS 43 antenna at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Australia is receiving 159.00 b/sec.
According to the DSN page, Voyager 2 is 16.23 billion kilometers away from Earth. Round-trip time at the speed of light? 1.25 days.
What kind of downlink speeds can we expect from New Horizons? NASA says anywhere between 1 and 4 kilobits per second. The difference is because of how the data is being sent and which DSN antenna is receiving it.
“The New Horizons mission has required patience for many years, but from the small amount of data we saw around the Pluto flyby, we know the results to come will be well worth the wait,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist.
This patience will start to pay off this Friday when fresh, unprocessed images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) will be posted. Keep an eye on this link for new images. The New Horizons team will post new images each Friday starting on September 11th. Here’s one of the last images posted back in July.