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Pluto Probe Launches 312

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the ground-control-to-major-tom dept.
Artem S. Tashkinov writes "The US space agency, Nasa, has successfully launched its New Horizons mission to Pluto. The $700m probe will gather information on Pluto and its moons before - it is hoped - pressing on to explore other objects in the outer Solar System. Pluto is the only remaining planet that has never been visited by a spacecraft."
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Pluto Probe Launches

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  • Cool (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 19, 2006 @11:57PM (#14516046)
    In 2015 we should get some pretty interesting data back.
    • Re:Cool (Score:4, Funny)

      by Yahweh Doesn't Exist (906833) on Friday January 20, 2006 @01:58AM (#14516742)
      I am very disappointed with our President for allowing this project (and many others) to be funded. Wasting billions of tax-payers' dollars on atheist scientists' toys that could be spent on community development is an affront to the faith-based policy agenda that has seen our nation move from strength to strength in these difficult times. If we do not stand up to the constant attacks by left-wing scientists with their heretic world-views our very status as a Christian nation is in real threat. I for one am tired of being persecuted for my beliefs.
      • Re:Cool (Score:3, Funny)

        by foniksonik (573572)
        AH... what they didn't tell you is that the payload contains a copy of both the Ten Commandments [ladyofthecake.com] and the King George Bible [internetweekly.org]... which will be dropped on Pluto to the dismay of Clyde Tombaugh who thought his ashes were going to find a good secular resting place on the farthest planet from Earth we can get to...
    • In 2015 we should get some pretty interesting data back.

      I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.
  • by Bananatree3 (872975) * on Thursday January 19, 2006 @11:59PM (#14516058)
    Around the year 2000 there was a website that was setup by a teenager who wanted to see NASA send a space probe to Pluto. The website was www.plutomission.com [plutomission.com], and it helped start an online petition that gained well over 50,000 signatures. It also started a huge upsurge of public support for a Pluto mission, and in the end helped persuade NASA into making a real mission out of it. Amazing what a simple website can do.
  • Photo (Score:5, Funny)

    by Eightyford (893696) on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:00AM (#14516070) Homepage
    Here's [ehapa.de] a closeup of the latest photo of pluto taken by Hubble.
  • Fastest too.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kurth (221375) * on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:01AM (#14516078) Homepage
    From this CNN article [cnn.com], and my buddy Pete at JHAPL, "The New Horizons spacecraft will be the fastest ever launched, more than 10 times faster than a speeding bullet.". That is faster then superman.
    • But slower than Chuck Norris.

      Anyway, that's quite some speed it has. Major improvement. Now we just have to hope nothing goes wrong.
    • Re:Fastest too.. (Score:4, Informative)

      by DoraLives (622001) on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:25AM (#14516231)
      Watched it go from the beach at 13th Street South in Cocoa Beach, and aside from the fact that it was a real pretty shot, playing peek-a-boo between puffy white clouds on the way up, it was also going like a bat out of hell from the very beginning. From the looks of things, that Atlas V could hardly tell it even had a payload on top. Real fast right off the pad, and then just kept on accellerating from there on. Looked more like a Delta II than any kind of Atlas. Fucker was just flat out gittin' it on the way up. Very spunky look to it for a bird that size.
    • Relativity ;) (Score:2, Insightful)

      by burni (930725)
      I concur, and I see you did notice that in the news there is never or less mentioned a hard number refering to the "real" speed which the launchvehicle had?

      Anytime they say
      "as twice as fast than spaceshuttle"

      you mentioned
      "10 times faster than a bullet"

      From my point of view this "relativism" isn´t good, it teaches especially
      non technical people or even kids, not to refer to the hard facts first,
      and using a relation to make this fact or high speed seizable in the second,
      it also misses out things to m
      • Re:Relativity ;) (Score:2, Interesting)

        by AKAImBatman (238306)
        You forgot one: The Space Shuttle travels at Mach 25. In orbit. In a vacuum. With, like, no air. No sound. No speed of sound to multiply by. Mach 25.

        Would someone like to explain that one to me?
        • Well, *duh*. In space, there's no air molecules to slow down the sound! That's why the sound effects of that battle halfway around the planet always arrive in sync with what you see. Mach one = C. Or something. So the space shuttle goes 25c and consequently back in time. I should stop trying to wrap my head around this mystery before something breaks.
        • Re:Relativity ;) (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Rei (128717) on Friday January 20, 2006 @03:12AM (#14517039) Homepage
          LEO's hardly a vaccuum. That's why orbits decay. You better darn well believe that fluid properties the sparse atmosphere in LEO is important to engineers.

          The speed of sound is a lot more important than just for the rate at which sound propagates. Transsonic speeds are extremely turbulent because you have some parts of the craft getting shocks and others not, leaving the flow very irregular (regionally and temporally). Subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic speeds require different profiles for optimal performance (for example, a plane-shaped subsonic craft has the least resistance if the fuselage continues on straight at the wings. A supersonic or hypersonic craft has the least resistance if the fuselage pinches inwards at the wings in order to keep a constant cross section). Shocks can cause regional stresses (tensile, thermal) on parts of the craft. Etc.
    • "'The New Horizons spacecraft will be the fastest ever launched, more than 10 times faster than a speeding bullet.' That is faster then superman.

      Not necessarily. Superman is faster than a speeding bullet -- that doesn't mean he is NOT eleven times[1] faster than a speeding bullet.

      Besides, how long did it take Him to fly around Earth a few times to reverse time by using his massive amount of drag to reverse the spin of Earth? I bet the same speed would get him past the moon in less than 9 hours. Then
    • It will be travelling 47,000 mph after getting a boost from Jupiter. That's like nearly 800 miles per minute, about 13 miles per second. Better not be any astronauts in its path, if it it one, they'd be an astro-naught.
  • Yes!!! (Score:5, Informative)

    by lorelorn (869271) on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:02AM (#14516084)
    With all the delays, I was getting worried that the mission would be delayed.

    For those not aware, had it been delayed past early Feb, the mission would have taken 4 years longer to reach Pluto, due to missing Jupiter for a gravitational 'slingshot' assist.

    Roll on 2015. The best images we have of Pluto now are fuzzy Hubble pics, and I can't wait for this to change.

    • Yeah, it's embarrasing that we haven't dropped a probe by to say hello. It's so close (relatively) and yet we have no great detailed imagery of it.

      I would love for there to be awesome new info found on such a mission. Then we'd have reason to go out again, and again.

      Anything, really, to spark some new desire for space exploration and development!

    • I vote that we stop these "grand tour" types of missions. We need to have more Cassini style missions: placing the satellite in orbit around the target. As far as I know only Earth, Mars, and Saturn have satellites (in the telemetry sense, not the astonomy sense) around them.
      • The vast majority of planetary missions have been orbital in nature, with a number of landings. IIRC, the last "grand tour" mission we had before New Horizons (not counting cometary exploration) was Voyager 2 almost 30 years ago. I'm kinda disappointed that New Horizons wasn't called Voyager 3, given the mission profile.
      • by Quadraginta (902985) on Friday January 20, 2006 @04:36AM (#14517323)
        To enter orbit around a planet you need to be going slowly when you get there, at no more than the orbital speed for the planet. New Horizons will be going at 11 km/s when it flashes by Pluto, snapping pictures like mad, whereas the orbital velocity for Pluto is just over 3 km/s. NH is moving at least 3 times too fast to go into orbit.

        If you wanted to go into orbit, you'd have two choices. The first, and most economical, is to launch the spacecraft on an elliptical trajectory [wikipedia.org] that just barely reaches out to Pluto. That gets the spacecraft there with the lowest possible speed relative to Pluto. You still have some braking to do, but it's the least possible. Problem is, the length of such a trajectory is about half the period of Pluto's orbit, i.e. 125 years. Ugh.

        If you speed things up by taking a faster trajectory, then you end up with much more braking to do. Then the problem becomes: how do you lose all that speed? If the planet had an atmosphere, and you have good heat shielding, you can do a little aerobraking, which is what's done with Mars. But with an airless world you're stuck with bringing along enough fuel to do almost as much braking as you did accelerating from Earth orbit. So far, that has been very difficult without a very large spacecraft. One plausible hope for improvement is to bring along a real nuclear reactor [nasa.gov] (instead of just an RTG) which can provide lots of electric power, and then use a high-efficiency ion drive to slow yourself down.
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:03AM (#14516092)
    Any comment from the "OMG! Plutonium powered space probes are evil!" people that were hanging little origami birds on a fence outside the launch site? They seemed certain that launching this craft was going to be a disaster. Damn! Now they're going to have to wait for the next one, since neither Cassini nor this new launch have obliged them by crashing into an old growth redwood grove or a daycare center.
    • by Gojira Shipi-Taro (465802) on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:06AM (#14516113) Homepage
      Gotta agree with you there. I can't stand people that are ignorant enough to protest anything with the word "nuclear" attached to it. Blind ignorance is all that is. They don't even have the most basic understanding of what they are protetsting. They're simply doing it because some hippy teacher during their education told them that they should.

      Lemmings.
      • Now I don't really care what it's powered by and what's on it. But will you and the parent poster apologize if one of these probes do explode on lift off?

        I mean it's not like anything NASA does ever goes wrong?

        I expect that if it ever does happen you'll either be very quiet, or you'll find someone else to take a cheap shot at.
        • What, exactly would I have to appologize for? the actual radiation exposure would be something like being out in the sun slightly longer than you should without sunscreen. That's not great, but frankly if I was concerned about that, I'd make a point of not living within threat range of the cape.

          Get over it.

          They are very serious about minimizing the exposure, which is why the teams were deployed, but the actual danger is negligable.

          No, I wouldn't "appologize". I have nothing to appologize for, and certainly
        • apoligize for what, exactly?

          Do you demand that the operators of coal-fired power plants apologize to the residents of the Black Forest in Germany, the NE United States/SE Canada, etc. for all the damage to arboreal forests caused by acid rain?

          Some accidents happen. If they had to abort that rocket, it would have been downrange from Cape Canaveral into the Atlantic Ocean. Sure, the COSMOS probe that crashed into Alberta in the 80's spewed some plutonium over some area of a range grazing area, but the world
          • Read the first post - what do those that protested against the launch of a Nuclear powered probe have to apologize for? They had a concern and they voiced it - they're in the "land of the free" with a right to "free speech". And what harm did they do?

            Do you demand that the operators of coal-fired power plants apologize to the residents of the Black Forest in Germany, the NE United States/SE Canada, etc. for all the damage to arboreal forests caused by acid rain?

            Sure, why not? And include all those
      • I can't stand people that are ignorant enough to protest anything with the word "nuclear" attached to it. Blind ignorance is all that is. They don't even have the most basic understanding of what they are protetsting
        You know - I support nuclear power, and launches with RTG's onboard scare the hell out of me. Why? Because space launchers have an abysmal safety record. Historically, something around 2% of them fail - and a disturbingly large percentage of those involve scattering bits of the launcher and payload right back on earth.

        Of the fifty odd launches of reactors or RTG's - no fewer than nine have resulted in the radioactive material being returned to earth. This article [nuclearspace.com] lists eight failures, but misses a ninth [jamesoberg.com]. It's not a pretty record - and it's only by luck that major contamination has been avoided.

        Lemmings.
        A lemming in this instance is someone who blindly repeats something without understanding it. Consider the carefully the walls of your house before casting stones.
        • Luck? That's an insult to the engineers who designed those things, and you should apologise. They are professionals, and the reason there hasn't been an accidental release from a US spacecraft is that they were *designed* to survive these accidents. There's nothing magic here. Something that small can be built far far stronger than the minimum requirements. When you do that, to think you're going to have a major nuclear release from a probe like this one is just a bit like saying a stick of dynamite will cr
          • Luck? That's an insult to the engineers who designed those things, and you should apologise.

            No, it's stone cold truth. Any other brand of engineer that designed something that failed as much as 2% of the time would be considered an utter failure. Imagine that high a failure rate in a nuclear power plant, or a nuclear submarine, or a high performance jet aircraft (like Concorde or Blackbird). You say space is hard? Well, these things are too.

            They are professionals, and the reason there hasn't been an

        • "no fewer than nine have resulted in the radioactive material being returned to earth."

          And yet, no major ecological disaster has ensued. Perhaps the danger is overstated?
      • You mean like Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (NMRI) [wikipedia.org]? What? You've never heard that with the "N"?
    • Any comment from the "OMG! Plutonium powered space probes are evil!" people that were hanging little origami birds on a fence outside the launch site? They seemed certain that launching this craft was going to be a disaster. Damn! Now they're going to have to wait for the next one, since neither Cassini nor this new launch have obliged them by crashing into an old growth redwood grove or a daycare center.

      Ever notice how tough they build those RTG's? Among other things, it's because they know that histori

      • It's not the plutonium that's the problem - it's the system that accepts such a failure rate as normal.

        I'd say that considering the difficulty of what's being attempted, a failure rate of one in fifty is still doing pretty well. Hell, even model rocketry buffs can sometimes have trouble having that much success. Putting a payload in space involves lots of energy being released very quickly using dangerous and often unstable substances using very complex machines, and there's an inherent danger in that
    • Strictly speaking they haven't been proven wrong. Their concern was that it might have blown up on launch, scattering and possibly aerosolizing radioactive material. Rockets blow up all too often; just because this one didn't doesn't mean that they were completely wrong about the possible consequences if it did.

      As far as I can tell they ARE wrong. The RTGs are designed to withstand the destruction of the launch vehicle without dispersing the radioactive material. But I haven't seen the tests that prove th
      • As far as I can tell they ARE wrong. The RTGs are designed to withstand the destruction of the launch vehicle without dispersing the radioactive material.

        They are designed to have a high chance of survival - but they are not impregnable.

        But I haven't seen the tests that prove that, and unless you're on the team, neither have you.

        Actually - I pretty much have. But then I've bothered to actually seek out and read the enviromental impact statements for the launch. I *support* nuclear power, but these lau

    • Is affirming and tolerating the protester's right to make themselves heard more troublesome than becoming cavelier about putting plutonium atop giant explosive devices? It isn't a trivial concern - a total dispersal would have instantly spread 80% the average annual radiation dosage across a 65 mile radius. And cleanup would have run $241 million to $1.3 billion per square mile [cnn.com] - and recall what the early estimates for costs of the Iraq War were, at that. I'll be worried when people stop protesting, any t
  • by Quadraginta (902985) on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:09AM (#14516138)
    Here's to New Horizons, indeed!

    [Drains glass, turns over on top of bar...]

    One wonders if NH might contribute some data to finally solve the Pioneer anomaly [wikipedia.org].
  • Kinda Slow (Score:5, Interesting)

    by borisborf (906678) on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:15AM (#14516178) Homepage
    You have to wonder why, with such a long journey, they didn't try out an ion engine. Sure, it would have cost more, but it would have been able to get there a lot faster. The ion engine has a much higher specific impulse than conventional rockets but are only effective over long range where the engines can be fired continuously. What longer range than Pluto? Plus, include a larger Plutonium core and run several of these.

    Sure, it is the fastest probe to escape from the earth, but why not strap on an extra stage and get that baby really cookin!
    • Re:Kinda Slow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Unholy_Kingfish (614606) on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:42AM (#14516331) Homepage
      This mission has been planned for a long time. Lots of R&D. On and off funding. The building of this probe started the better part of a decade ago. When you build space fairing vehicles you build them on CURRENT tech, not what might be around in a few years. Ion engines are new technology in its infancy that wouldn't have been available to the designers then.

      Not to mention this is a flyby mission, not an orbiting mission like Cassini or the MESSENGER mission. You do not want to zoom by and get less data.

      These space probes are in for the long haul, not just a quicky.

      • Re:Kinda Slow (Score:2, Informative)

        by borisborf (906678)
        I do have to agree with the R&D years ahead of time thing. My dad works for Honeywell Defence and Space Center and they are the ones that make the processors for stuff like this.

        Shocked one time to find out that a new sattelite was going up with a years-old PPC processor running at something crazy like 333MHz, I asked him what all this was about.

        Apparently, to get these chips made, they have to wait until Motorola releases a processor. Then they get a contract from the military. So they take the c
        • Re:Kinda Slow (Score:3, Informative)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          Shocked one time to find out that a new sattelite was going up with a years-old PPC processor running at something crazy like 333MHz, I asked him what all this was about. [...] All in all, you have a minimum of a 5 year technology gap for what is going up and what is current.

          Which sounds shocking - until you realize these birds are not running Quake or Halo. The OS they use demands much less system resources (and wouldn't be reconizable as an OS to most computers geeks to start with) and is much more t

      • Re:Kinda Slow (Score:3, Informative)

        by Cujo (19106) *

        You're probably thinking of JPL's PKB Express, which was cancelled. New Horizons started cutting metal in earnest around 2003, which is when they had their CDR. Most of their flight avionics was completed in 2004, wich is also when most of their flight software saw it first release. Long lead time isn't the reason they didn't use an ion engine. The reason is that given the current state of ion engine technology, it would be a bad idea - especially when they had a mission design that closed with a relati

    • Because an Ion drive will only get you 6 parsecs per round whereas the secret anti-matter drive will get you 8 parsecs per round and the ultra secret hyper drive will do 9 parsecs per round. Now couple that with the thorium fuel cells the craft can be an unlimited number of parsecs away from the nearest self/ally owned colony. If only the Darloks would stop stealing my advanced Psilon technology.

      Ok, maybe nobody else thinks MOO1 was the greatest 4X but I do.
      Sorry, every time I read about ion drives I always
    • You have to wonder why, with such a long journey, they didn't try out an ion engine. Sure, it would have cost more, but it would have been able to get there a lot faster.

      Getting there faster, while trading most of your instruments for engines and fuel seems to have little point.

      Sure, it is the fastest probe to escape from the earth, but why not strap on an extra stage and get that baby really cookin!

      The 500 series Atlas V is about the biggest proven and commercially available launcher we have - and they

  • by 00Sovereign (106393) on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:20AM (#14516200)
    After hearing how this is a flyby mission and the top speed of this spacecraft, I wondered about the current speed champ, Voyager I. According to some of my back of the envelope calculations based upon New Horizons' estimated top speed after a Jupiter assist and the current position and speed of Voyager I, in 26 years New Horizons will surpass Voyager I as the most distant human made object.
    • According to some of my back of the envelope calculations based upon New Horizons' estimated top speed after a Jupiter assist and the current position and speed of Voyager I, in 26 years New Horizons will surpass Voyager I as the most distant human made object.

      Thanks for doing that. I didn't have an envelope handy.

    • in 26 years New Horizons will surpass Voyager I as the most distant human made object.

      I've read that New Horizons will not escape the Sun's gravity and circle back to the inner Solar System in thousands of years. I thought Voyagers and the Pioneer probes were leaving the Sun system. If NH is faster, then shouldn't it also be leaving the Sun's pull?
  • by dada21 (163177) <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:26AM (#14516241) Homepage Journal
    The outer planet?

    Reavers!!!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 20, 2006 @12:45AM (#14516348)
  • This will increase the probe's speed away from the Sun by nearly 4km/s (9,000mph), allowing the spacecraft to reach the ninth planet by July 2015.

    Wonder why they changed it to per hour instead of per second. Must be a "2.5mph feels too slow" thing :-)
  • my bet: (Score:2, Funny)

    by dartarrow (930250)
    in 2015 when the craft reaches pluto it will be greeted by Japanese rocket launched 2010 carrying korean 8-legged-roboAssTroNuts


    p.s. How long before we get to the Pegasus Galaxy? I need to ask Thor and the Ori about Intelligent Design. I'm pretty sure they were involved somehow
  • Someone will be watching the webcast live on their video ipod and probably run into someone because they wasn't watching where they were going on their hoverboard.
  • How little does the American public care about this launch? So little that we've got to look to British news outlets to find decent coverage!
    • Re:BB frikkin' C! (Score:3, Informative)

      by DerekLyons (302214)

      How little does the American public care about this launch? So little that we've got to look to British news outlets to find decent coverage!

      It's linked right off the home page of CNN [cnn.com] and it's headline news (with a big beautiful picture) on MSNBC's Science and Technology [msn.com] section. (As well as ABC's [go.com] and CBS's [cbsnews.com] news departments Science and Technology pages.) Its also the lead story on Google News's Sci/Tech [google.com] section.

      As a matter of fact - this list [google.com] from Google news shows a pretty even balance between US and th

  • Interesting trivia (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088)
    Wikipedia: Principal investigator Alan Stern confirmed that some ashes of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh were aboard the spacecraft.
  • by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Friday January 20, 2006 @01:48PM (#14520189)
    Funny thing. I was working on the Atlas V av010 launch and up until last week I had not connected av010 with the New Horizons pluto mission. I read on CNN that "New Horizons" was on an Atlas at the cape waiting for launch. I figured that had to be "our" Atlas which was at the cape getting ready to be launched. I work with the telemetry from the Atlas V. I guess I'm like a truck driver. When you ask him what's he hauling he says "A trailor, what else?" Then you ask what's in the trailor and he says "a bunch of boxes I guess, I never look.". I guess if you'd ask one of the people who work on the science instruments on the payload about what was used to launch the spacecraft they say "A rocket of some kind I assume." and they wouldn't even know that the RD180 main engine on the Altas V 1st stage is made in Russia by NPO Energomash in Khimky.

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