NASA’s New Horizons probe is closing in fast on its second target, a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) nicknamed Ultima Thule. And NASA TV will be covering all the action live after some earlier confusion about how NASA’s television and social media operations would be affected by the ongoing government shutdown.
NASA Head Jim Bridenstine cleared up the confusion in a tweet saying the contract for New Horizons, NASA TV, and OSIRIS-REx were all “forward funded.”
“NASA will continue to stun the world with its achievements,” Bridenstine added.
The New Horizons team aren’t the only busy folks at NASA today. The OSIRIS-REx team (the Bennu asteroid sample mission) are gearing up for its spacecraft to enter orbit around Bennu in a few hours.
There’s a lot of remarkable space history being made today and early tomorrow morning.
– Bennu will be the smallest body ever orbited by a spacecraft. The asteroid measures just 1,650 feet wide.
– An 8-second burn will put OSIRIS-REx into orbit around the small asteroid making it the closest orbit of a planetary body by a spacecraft.
– New Horizons meets Ultima Thule. It’ll be the first time a Kuiper Belt Object has ever been explored.
Right now, New Horizons is 12 hours and less than 634,000 kilometers away from giving us our first glimpse of what Ultima Thule looks like. Is it a contact binary? Does it have rings? An atmosphere? New Horizons showed us Pluto was more than a drab sphere in the distant solar system. I have a feeling Ultima Thule is going to exceed expectations too.
Tonight’s closest approach will happen at 12:33 am EST. Tomorrow morning at 10:15 am EST, the folks shepherding New Horizons on its journey will anxiously await signal acquisition confirming the spacecraft’s flyby success. At 11:30 am EST, a press briefing will begin covering the spacecraft’s status, latest images, and the data download schedule. More than 50 gigabits of Ultima Thule will be beamed back to Earth. And with the vast distance separating Earth and New Horizons, it’ll take 20 months to get it.
That’s right; we should be getting the first decent images of Ultima Thule tomorrow. They won’t be the best, those come later, but we should get a good look at New Horizons’ second flyby target.