Contact With New Horizons Lost But Then Reestablished After Anomaly Led To Loss Of Communication With Earth

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has entered safe mode 10 days before the historic flyby of Pluto after encountering an anomaly. The spacecraft is still on course and healthy but will be unable to collect science data during this time. A glitch of this nature can cause some anxiety for those of us following the Pluto mission but New Horizons has backups for most systems and the team has plans in place to respond to these situations when they arise. Still, this is a situation that the mission team would prefer not to deal with so close to the July 14th flyby of Pluto. The complete status update is below.

The New Horizons spacecraft experienced an anomaly the afternoon of July 4 that led to a loss of communication with Earth. Communication has since been reestablished and the spacecraft is healthy.

The mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, lost contact with the unmanned spacecraft -- now 10 days from arrival at Pluto -- at 1:54 p.m. EDT, and regained communications with New Horizons at 3:15 p.m. EDT, through NASA’s Deep Space Network.

During that time the autonomous autopilot on board the spacecraft recognized a problem and – as it’s programmed to do in such a situation - switched from the main to the backup computer. The autopilot placed the spacecraft in “safe mode,” and commanded the backup computer to reinitiate communication with Earth. New Horizons then began to transmit telemetry to help engineers diagnose the problem.

A New Horizons Anomaly Review Board (ARB) was convened at 4 p.m. EDT to gather information on the problem and initiate a recovery plan. The team is now working to return New Horizons to its original flight plan. Due to the 9-hour, round trip communication delay that results from operating a spacecraft almost 3 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) from Earth, full recovery is expected to take from one to several days; New Horizons will be temporarily unable to collect science data during that time.

Status updates will be issued as new information is available.

We will keep you updated as we know more. You can also follow @NewHorizons2015 or the New Horizons Mission News Feed.

For the original press release, click here.

To access the full features of Pluto Safari please download the FREE app for iOS from the Apple App Store or Pluto Safari: New Horizons for Android from Google Play.

Alternatively, if you have SkySafari or Pluto Safari installed you could download the simulation settings file here.