The New Horizons mission—designed, built, operated, and managed by Johns Hopkins APL for NASA—will help us understand worlds at the edge of our solar system by making the first reconnaissance of the planet Pluto and by venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt, a relic of solar system formation.
New Horizons launched on Jan. 19, 2006; it swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007, and is now conducting a five-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons. The spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto is scheduled for July 14, 2015.
As part of an extended mission, the spacecraft is expected to head farther into the Kuiper Belt to examine one or two of the ancient, icy mini-worlds in that vast region, at least a billion miles beyond Neptune’s orbit. This long journey will help us answer basic questions about the surface properties, geology, interior makeup, and atmospheres on these bodies.