FINDING KBO FLYBY TARGETS FOR NEW HORIZONS


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Abstract

Development of the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt is now fully funded by NASA (Stern and Spencer, this volume). If all goes well, New Horizons will be launched in January 2006, followed by a Jupiter gravity assist in 2007, with Pluto arrival expected in either 2015 or 2016, depending on the launch vehicle chosen. A backup launch date of early 2007, without a Jupiter flyby, would give a Pluto arrival in 2019 or 2020. In either case, a flyby of at least one Kuiper Belt object (KBO) is planned following the Pluto encounter, sometime before the spacecraft reaches a heliocentric distance of 50 AU, in 2021 or 2023 for the 2006 launch, and 2027 or 2029 for the 2007 launch. However, none of the almost 1000 currently-known KBOs will pass close enough to the spacecraft trajectory to be targeted by New Horizons, so the KBO flyby depends on finding a suitable target among the estimated 500,000 KBOs larger than 40 km in diameter. This paper discusses the issues involved in finding one or more KBO targets for New Horizons. The New Horizons team plans its own searches for mission KBOs but will welcome other U.S, or international team who wish to become involved in exchange for mission participation at the KBO.

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