New Horizons’ Pluto flyby might be in the past but the mission is far from over. This is Pluto in a Minute.
Of course, Pluto was New Horizons’ primary target, but the mission was never intended to explore only one body in the outer solar system. In fact, the mission was designed to explore not just the Pluto-Charon system, but Pluto-Charon as well as multiple Kuiper Belt Objects.
This is according to the 2003 decadal survey that called for a Pluto-Kuiper Belt explorer mission. This was a mission intended to explore the Pluto-Charon system and, to quote, “continue on to do reconnaissance of several additional Kuiper Belt Objects.”
So New Horizons always had a Kuiper Belt object as its secondary target. Last summer when New Horizons flew by Pluto there were two options for the future Kuiper Belt flyby and now the team has selected their target.
The target the New Horizons team has settled on is called 2014 MU 69, and it was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014. The target is a really exciting one because the team suspects that it is made of the same building blocks that have formed all the Kuiper Belt planets and that includes Pluto. Now it must be said that this extended mission is pending approval by NASA. The New Horizons team will have to submit a formal proposal to the space agency later this year.
But New Horizons still has a long way to go. The spacecraft will fly by its Kuiper Belt object on January 1 of 2019, which means you’ve got plenty of time to start planning that Kuiper Belt Object themed New Year’s party for 2018.