NASA has announced that its New Horizons spacecraft is "awake" once more after some time off and is currently being prepped for what the organisation are calling "the farthest planetary encounter in history".
The epic flyby will take place on New Year's Day 2019 and will be of the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule, in the outer Solar System.
"Cruising through the Kuiper Belt more than 3.7 billion miles from Earth, New Horizons had been in resource-saving hibernation mode since 21 December," NASA said.
"Radio signals confirming that New Horizons had executed on-board computer commands to exit hibernation reached mission operations at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, via NASA's Deep Space Network at 2:12 (EDT) on 5 June."
Over the next three days, the mission team will collect navigation tracking data, using signals from the Deep Space Network, and send the first of many commands to New Horizons' onboard computers to begin preparations for the Ultima flyby, which will last about two months.
Those flyby preparations will include memory updates, Kuiper Belt science data retrieval, and a series of subsystem and science-instrument checkouts, NASA said.
Then, in August, the team will command New Horizons to begin making distant observations of Ultima, images that will help the team refine the spacecraft's course to fly by the object.
"Our team is already deep into planning and simulations of our upcoming flyby of Ultima Thule and excited that New Horizons is now back in an active state to ready the bird for flyby operations, which will begin in late August," explained mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern.
New Horizons is now approximately 162 million miles from Ultima, which is about twice the distance between the Earth and the Sun. It's speeding at 760,200 miles closer each day
Ultima Thule is only about 30 kilometres long, and it sits 6.4 billion kilometres away, so we don't know much about it yet. And that's what New Horizons will try and find out.
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