NASA launched the New Horizons probe to visit Pluto and become its first researcher a few years ago. When this phase of the mission was completed, the robot went to a new distance. Now the “New Horizons” will look for Kuiper Belt objects. One of these days the probe has come out of hibernation and has started preparation for mission. The Kuiper Belt is a ring of ice objects outside of Neptune. After Pluto had been a planet for several decades, the scientists realized that it was not a planet, but simply a large object of the Kuiper belt and lowered it in rank. The mission of the “New horizons” was the first, when humanity was able to observe such a distant object so close, but the probe is going to beat its own record early next year.
“New Horizons” is ideal for studying other Kuiper belt objects for several reasons. First, the probe is already in place. It took years for the spacecraft to reach the outer solar system – the “New Horizons” were sent from Earth when Pluto was a planet. In addition to this, the mission with Pluto was just flying around. It took too much fuel to slow down the probe so that it entered Pluto's orbit, so the entire data collection phase took several hours. Due to the fact that the spacecraft copes well with the scientific part of its work, it was decided to keep it alive for the mission in the Kuiper belt.
Now the probe has successfully emerged from hibernation. In the regime of hibernation, it was loaded at the end of 2017; all systems were disabled, the computer only sent periodic status updates to Earth. Previously, NASA confirmed that the probe worked only on these signals, but now it is fully operational. The state of the system is impeccable.
When the “New Horizons” embarked on the second part of its mission, NASA did not yet know much about the small objects of the Kuiper belt, but since then several possible targets have been identified. The agency selected MU69, sometimes called the Ultima Thule. This is either one or two pieces of ice and stone with a diameter of 32 kilometers. Very soon, scientists will begin preparations for the MU69 study.
The asteroid itself is 1.6 billion kilometers behind Pluto (Pluton itself is 4.5 billion kilometers from the Earth). It will be the most distant object that the device has ever visited from Earth. The flight is scheduled for January 2019.