The Austin Chapter of IEEE CEDA (Council on Electronic Design Automation) met last night. The program was “The New Horizons Mission to Pluto” presented by Scott Weidner of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. The meeting was well attended and it turned out to be a very interesting program.
It is amazing that only fuzzy pictures of Pluto have been available until New Horizons approached this icy planet. One of the unique facts about Pluto is that it is essentially a binary planet because of the size of moon Charon. This causes both Pluto and Charon to actually orbit a point in space.
We have seen many remarkable pictures from the spacecraft. It is hard to believe with the phone, tablets and computers we have today that New Horizons only has 8 GB of storage. But then the spacecraft has been on it’s journey for 10 years, and the construction of the spacecraft began three years before it’s 2006 launch. Now that the flyby is completed, accumulated data is trickling back to Earth at less that 2000 bits per second. That data will continue to be downloaded for months to come.
The spacecraft carries seven instruments, which were reviewed in the meeting. Now that it has left Pluto, New Horizons will visit at least one other body in the Kuiper belt. That is currently scheduled for early 2019.