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NASA reestablish communications with New Horizons after glitch

Charles Black, Founder and CEO of Sen
Jul 5, 2015, 18:23 UTC, Updated Jul 6, 2015, 15:34 UTC

Sen—NASA is working on returning its Pluto bound probe to its original flight plan after unexpectedly losing contact with the spacecraft on the afternoon of July 4. Normal science operations are expected to resume on July 7.

Communications with New Horizons—which is now just eight days away from its closest flyby of the Pluto system—were lost for one hour, 21 minutes. During the anomaly, the spacecraft detected the problem and switched to its backup computer and placed itself into 'safe mode'. The back-up system reinitiated communication with NASA's Deep Space Network.

Communications with the spacecraft were quickly reestablished. A NASA update issued on July 6 stated that an investigation into the anomaly had not found any problems with the hardware or software.

The cause of the communications blip was described as "a hard-to-detect timing flaw in the spacecraft command sequence that occurred during an operation to prepare for the close flyby. No similar operations are planned for the remainder of the Pluto encounter."

Jim Green, NASA's Director of Planetary Science, said: "I'm pleased that our mission team quickly identified the problem and assured the health of the spacecraft. Now—with Pluto in our sights—we're on the verge of returning to normal operations and going for the gold."

Although some observation time has been lost due to the glitch, the mission's Principal Investigator Alan Stern was not concerned by the loss. "In terms of science it won't change an A-plus even into an A" said Stern in a statement.

The team is now working on resuming science operations on July 7 and expect the flyby on July 14 to go according to plan. 

On July 3, 2015, New Horizons released this colour animation of Pluto and its largest moon Charon:


The first colour 'movie' of Pluto and Charon, released by the New Horizons team on July 3, 2015. The animation is compiled from images taken between June 23-29, 2015, as New Horizons' distance to Pluto decreased from a distance of 24 million kilometers to 18 million kilometers (15 million to 11 million miles). Six high-resolution black-and-white images from New Horizons' Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) instrument were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to produce the movie. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute