NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft is nearing its History making July 14 Encounter with Pluto, giving us up close data that here to fore has been from ground based and Earth orbiting space observations.
This means that the New Horizons spacecraft will be sending back first-ever close up images of distant Pluto and its moons.
New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched, has traveled a longer time and farther away – more than nine years and three billion miles – than any space mission in history to reach its primary target. (voyager may have traveled further but had completed its mission and reached it primary target decades ago)
Its flyby of Pluto on July 14 will complete its primary mission, but may also open the door to new data in the Kuiper Belt, a large area beyond Neptune’s orbit with with numerous and interesting objects.
Interestingly, even with New Horizons closer to Pluto than the Earth is to the Sun, the Pluto system resembles little more than bright dots in the distance. That's enough however for the team team operating the spacecraft to navigate New Horizons toward a target 7,750 miles from Pluto’s surface. This is critical, since the craft's computer can not receive commands in real time and it needs to know where to point its science instruments as it passes Pluto.
Another real interesting data point: New Horizons’s work doesn’t end with the flyby. Because its time close to Pluto is so short, New Horizons is designed to gather as much data as it can, as quickly as it can,which means, taking about 100 times as much data on close approach as it can send home before flying away. The spacecraft will send the data stored in onboard memory for a full 16 months after close approach.
For more on the New Horizons mission, here is the NASA link http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons