NASA Team Responds to New Horizons Spacecraft Communication Glitch

NASA scientists are working overtime to fully restore New Horizons after it suffered an anomoly that caused an 81-minute loss of communication with Earth on Saturday. Communication with mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland has since been reestablished and the spacecraft is healthy, NASA said in a status breifing.

“Full recovery is expected to take from one to several days,” NASA said. “New Horizons will be temporarily unable to collect science data during that time.”

Only nine days before the spacecraft was due to fly past Pluto, the onboard autonomous autopilot recognized a problem and switched from the main to the backup computer, as it is programmed to do in such a situation.

The autopilot put the spacecraft in “safe mode,” and commanded the backup computer to reinitiate communication with Earth. New Horizons then began to transmit telemetry to help engineers diagnose the problem.

Due to the 9-hour, round trip communication delay to the spacecraft, which is nearly 3 billion miles from Earth, the work is challenging.

NASA’s New Horizons is a planetary explorer probe designed to conduct science as it passes by within 7,800 miles of Pluto on July 14.

Illustration: NASA