Press Release

APL-Built Pluto Spacecraft Begins Launch Preparations

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft arrived at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla., for final preparations and testing for the probe's decade-long journey. It will be the first spacecraft to visit Pluto and its moon, Charon.

New Horizons arrived Saturday at KSC's Shuttle Landing Facility aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane. The spacecraft is in a clean room at KSC. It is scheduled to launch on a Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket in January 2006. New Horizons recently completed four months of space-environment tests at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt , Md. , and The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel , Md. , where it was designed and built.

Carrying seven scientific instruments the compact, nearly 1,000 pound probe will fly by Pluto and Charon as early as summer 2015. Its mission is to characterize the global geology and geomorphology of the bodies, map their surface compositions, record temperatures and examine Pluto's complex atmosphere. Flybys of ancient rocky objects farther out in the solar system may be undertaken during an extended mission.

In October, New Horizons will undergo a series of functional tests, readiness checks, and an "end-to-end" test with the tracking facilities of NASA's Deep Space Network. In November, hydrazine fuel for attitude control and course correction maneuvers will be loaded and the spacecraft will undergo a final spin-balance test.

At the Atlas Space Operations Center on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, processing has begun on the Atlas V. Stacking of the vehicle will begin in early October and completed in late October or early November. In November, a launch countdown rehearsal will be performed. In December, the flight-ready spacecraft will be transported to Launch Complex 41 for hoisting a top the Atlas V.

Following final launch approval, liftoff is scheduled for Jan. 11, 2006 , during a two-hour launch window that opens at 2:07 p.m. EST. Launch windows are also available daily from Jan. 12 through Feb. 14, 2006.

New Horizons is the first mission in NASA's New Frontiers program of medium-class planetary missions. APL will operate the spacecraft for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) leads the New Horizons science and mission team. SwRI directed development of the mission's seven science instruments.

The National Research Council ranked the first reconnaissance of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt at the top of its priority list for planetary missions to be launched in this decade. A close-up look at these mysterious worlds will provide new information about the origin and evolution of our solar system.

For information on the mission, visit

The Air Force C-17 cargo plane carrying the New Horizons spacecraft
Mission team members and ground crew prepare to unload the shipping "can" containing the New Horizons spacecraft
Packed safely in a pressurized shipping container, the New Horizons spacecraft is loaded onto a flatbed truck at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center