Recent Results and Future Plans for NASA's New Horizons Kuiper Belt Mission
Session 4.01 Surveys
Tuesday 06-25 | 10:30 - 10:50

After the first US planetary decadal survey recommended a Kuiper Belt-Pluto Explorer mission in 2003, NASA's New Horizons mission was launched in 2006 to explore the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt. New Horizons then successfully made the first reconnaissance flybys of Pluto and its system of satellites in 2015, and a KBO planetesimal, Arrokoth, in 2019. New Horizons has also studied several dozen other KBOs and dwarf planets using its LORRI camera, and is being used extensively to explore the Sun's outer heliosphere. The spacecraft is now near 60 AU heliocentric distance and traveling outward at nearly 3 AU/year. Owing to its distant position, in addition to its Kuiper Belt/KBO and heliospheric studies, the spacecraft is also performing certain astrophysical observations not possible from Earth or any other operating spacecraft. Notably, beyond 50 AU, the in-situ dust detector instrument aboard New Horizons has consistently detected dust fluxes well above model predictions, possibly indicating either an extension to the Kuiper Belt or a second, more distant belt. Groundbased searches for new KBO targets to study, and potentially to closely fly by, are significantly increasing, using the Subaru telescope and new ground- and spacebased facilities. The spacecraft is healthy and all of its instrument are operating normally; consumables are available to operate the mission until ~2050, and there is sufficient propellant aboard to conduct another KBO flyby if a reachable target can be found. This presentation will discuss recent New Horizons scientific results concerning the Kuiper Belt and KBOs, as well as searches for new KBO targets, and flyby plans for a possible close reconnaissance of a final, very distant KBO.

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