Pluto Probe Sets a Distance Record for Course Correction

 / Updated  / Source: Space.com
Image: New Horizons
An artist's illustration shows NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flying through the Pluto system. New Horizons performed a 93-second engine burn on March 10 to prepare for the flyby.JHUAPL / SwRI

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NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has performed a record-setting maneuver to adjust its approach to Pluto ahead of this summer's historic flyby.

The New Horizons probe, which will zoom through the Pluto system on July 14, fired its engines for 93 seconds on Tuesday when it was about 3 billion miles (4.83 billion kilometers) from Earth. No spacecraft had ever conducted an engine burn at so great a distance from its handlers, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said.

"Today's engine burn by New Horizons set an ALL TIME record for the most distant by ANY spacecraft in history!" Stern, who's based at the Southwest Research Institute, tweeted Tuesday via the account @NewHorizons2015. [Photos of Pluto and Its Moons]

"We set another ALL TIME record today too — 1 AU to Pluto — closer now than the sun is to Earth!" Stern added in another tweet. (One AU, or astronomical unit, is the average distance from Earth to the sun — about 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers.)

Tuesday's engine burn was designed to slow New Horizons down by about 2.55 mph (4.1 kilometers per hour). The probe is currently traveling about 32,400 mph (52,140 kilometers per hour), mission officials said.

The burn was the first maneuver of New Horizons' Pluto approach phase, which began in January. The trajectory correction should delay the spacecraft's arrival in the Pluto system by 14 minutes and 30 seconds.

Image: New Horizons
An artist's illustration shows NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flying through the Pluto system. New Horizons performed a 93-second engine burn on March 10 to prepare for the flyby.JHUAPL / SwRI

"It will also shift the course 'sideways' (if looking from Earth) by 3,442 kilometers (2,139 miles) by July 14, sending the spacecraft toward a desired flyby close-approach target point," mission officials wrote in an update."

The $700 million New Horizons mission launched in January 2006, tasked with returning the first-ever good look at Pluto and its five known moons. The spacecraft will come within about 8,500 miles (13,600 kilometers) of Pluto's surface.

— Mike Wall, Space.com

This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com. Read the full report. Follow Mike Wall on Twitter and Google+. Follow Space.com on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

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