New Horizons probe healthy after minor glitch: NASA

Washington: NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is healthy and operating normally after spending over 24 hours in a protective “safe mode” – the result of a command-loading error that occurred this week, the US space agency said.

New Horizons is healthy and continues to speed along towards its next target – the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 – while its operations team works to restore it to full operations and resume scientific data collection, NASA said.

Due to the 10.5-hour round trip communications delay that results from operating a spacecraft more than 5.7 billion kilometres from Earth, the team expects New Horizons to be back on its activities timeline early Sunday.

The spacecraft is designed to automatically transition to safe mode under certain anomalous conditions to protect itself from harm.

In safe mode, the spacecraft suspends its timeline of activities and keeps its antenna pointed toward Earth to listen for instructions from the Mission Operations Centre at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in the US.

“Our rapid recovery was supported by other NASA missions that provided New Horizons with some of their valuable Deep Space Network (DSN) antenna time,” said Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission operations manager at APL.

The New Horizons mission, launched on January 19, 2006, is helping researchers understand worlds at the edge of our solar system by making the first reconnaissance of the dwarf planet Pluto and by venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt – a relic of solar system formation.