Pluto in a Minute: Why A Flyby?

Pluto in a Minute: Why A Flyby?

What’s cool about Pluto? Get a quick peek at the latest science in this daily update from NASA’s New Horizons mission, on track for a flight past Pluto on July 14, 2015.

Why are we going all the way to Pluto only to fly by it and not go into orbit? This is Pluto in a Minute.

It takes a lot of energy to get a rocket off the ground, and that’s even with a spacecraft as small as New Horizons, which is roughly the size of a baby grand piano. The rocket isn’t just launching the spacecraft, it’s launching all the fuel needed to get going on its way to Pluto as well. That is a really heavy load.

The velocity of that launching rocket was transferred into the New Horizons spacecraft, and, fast forward nine years to today, the spacecraft is currently whizzing along towards Pluto at 31,000 mph.

The other thing to consider is that Pluto is quote small. The force of gravity on Earth is 1g; the force of gravity on Pluto is 0.067gs.

To get New Horizons into orbit around Pluto, we would almost need to completely stop its currently velocity, which means we would need another Atlas V burning against its direction of travel to let it be captured by Pluto, and unfortunately, it’s impossible to launch an Atlas V with an Atlas V. If New Horizons had that much fuel, the spacecraft would be almost impossible to launch from the Earth.

But let’s pretend for a second that New Horizons does have some magic weightless fuel on board. If we were to use the spacecraft’s existing propulsion system to slow it into orbit around Pluto, the burn would last more than 17 days.

For more news from Pluto be sure to check out the New Horizons websites, tweet your questions using the hashtag #PlutoFlyby, and be sure to come back tomorrow for more Pluto in a Minute.

Video Pluto in a Minute: Why A Flyby?

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