New Horizons Returns to Science Ops at Pluto July 7

A “Hard to Detect Timing Flaw” Found as the Cause of Safe Mode

New Horizons, Pluto, and Charon (artist's concept). Courtesy NASA.

New Horizons, Pluto, and Charon (artist’s concept). Courtesy NASA.

Good news, folks!  New Horizons will be back in normal science ops mode starting Tuesday, July 7th!  They found the problem!

This just in (from NASA.gov):

“NASA’s New Horizons mission is returning to normal science operations after a July 4 anomaly and remains on track for its July 14 flyby of Pluto.

The investigation into the anomaly that caused New Horizons to enter “safe mode” on July 4 has concluded that no hardware or software fault occurred on the spacecraft. The underlying cause of the incident was a hard-to-detect timing flaw in the spacecraft command sequence that occurred during an operation to prepare for the close flyby. No similar operations are planned for the remainder of the Pluto encounter.

“I’m pleased that our mission team quickly identified the problem and assured the health of the spacecraft,” said Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science. “Now – with Pluto in our sights – we’re on the verge of returning to normal operations and going for the gold.”

Preparations are ongoing to resume the originally planned science operations on July 7 and to conduct the entire close flyby sequence as planned. The mission science team and principal investigator have concluded that the science observations lost during the anomaly recovery do not affect any primary objectives of the mission, with a minimal effect on lesser objectives. “In terms of science, it won’t change an A-plus even into an A,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder.

Adding to the challenge of recovery is the spacecraft’s extreme distance from Earth. New Horizons is almost 3 billion miles away, where radio signals, even traveling at light speed, need 4.5 hours to reach home. Two-way communication between the spacecraft and its operators requires a nine-hour round trip.

Status updates will be issued as new information is available.”

My friend Tim just found this quote from the Apollo 11 landing that seems QUITE appropriate here:
“Roger New Horizons Science Team, you got a bunch of people about to turn blue here,we’re breathing again. Thanks a lot!”

About C.C. Petersen

I am a science writer and media producer specializing in astronomy and space science content. This blog contains news and views about these topics.
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3 Comments

  1. I knew we could count on the NH team!

  2. Whew! and Yee-hawww!!

  3. Good job, NASA techies! Sad that there’ll be that gap in coverage, but at least we (probably?) won’t see a heartbreaking repeat of Phobos 2…

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