Sci&Tech

Historic flyby of Pluto on track despite probe glitch, NASA says

This image obtained from NASA on April 29, 2015 shows Pluto (C)and its largest moon, Charon, taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. AFP PHOTO HANDOUT-NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

CAPE CANAVERAL: NASA said Monday it expects the New Horizons spacecraft to be back in service Tuesday after a computer glitch on the weekend threatened its upcoming historic flyby of Pluto.

Nearing the end of a 9.5-year journey to solar system's unexplored outer reaches, New Horizons shut down radio communications with Earth for a nail-biting 81 minutes Saturday.

The cause of the problem was a timing flaw in the final batch of software uploaded to the spacecraft, NASA said in a status report late Sunday. The mission will provide the first up-close observations of Pluto when it passes within 7,800 miles (12,550 km) of the icy planet at around 7:50 a.m. ET (1350 GMT) on July 14.

"Now - with Pluto in our sights - we're on the verge of returning to normal operations," NASA's planetary science director Jim Green said in a statement.

Diagnosis and recovery efforts have been complicated by the nine-hour round-trip lag time to communicate with the spacecraft, which is nearly 3 billion miles from Earth.

The small probe doesn't carry the massive amount of propellant needed to trim its speed and drop into orbit around Pluto, a small world circling in the Kuiper Belt region of the solar system.

Scientists believe Pluto and the thousands of other recently discovered Kuiper Belt objects are frozen mini-planets and building blocks from the solar system's formation 4.6 billion years ago.

New Horizons spent most of its long journey to Pluto in hibernation. It was revived in January to begin collecting navigation and science data.

NASA says the science lost as a result of the computer glitch and recovery will not impact the overall mission goals or next week's flyby.

 

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