New Horizons’ Pluto flyby images to be received by Australia’s CSIRO first

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Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will be the first to receive New Horizons’ Pluto flyby images as they are sent from the probe, the organisation has revealed.

With just a few hours to go before NASA’s spacecraft makes the historic closest every fly by, astronomers at CSIRO’s Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) are eagerly waiting for New Horizons to start sending back the highly anticipated images and scientific data.

CDSCC is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network and is one of only three tracking stations in the world that has the technology and people with the capabilities to provide the vital two-way radio contact with spacecraft like New Horizons at such incredible distances from Earth.

Director of the CDSCC Dr Ed Kruzins revealed that they have been tracking New Horizons since its launch in January 2006 and have been receiving images and telemetry data from the spacecraft ever since allowing the mission control team to make decisions about course corrections and other matters related to the spacecraft.

Radio signals from New Horizons will take about 4.5 hours to reach the CDSCC. By the time the signal reaches Earth they will be incredibly weak, practically tiny whispers. However thanks to the big dish’s high sensitivity on Earth at CDSCC, Pluto will come in loud and clear CSIRO revealed.

There will be so much data collected it will take up to a year before all of the images and science observations made by the spacecraft are fully transmitted back to Earth. During the flyby, New Horizons will go radio silent so as to ensure that all the computing power is available to the scientific instruments.

Head of CSIRO’s Astronomy and Space Science, Dr Lewis Balls said the New Horizons mission was one of the great explorations of our time.

“There is so much we don’t know and not just about Pluto, but also about similar worlds,” Dr Ball said. “Reaching this part of our solar system has been a space science priority for years, because it holds building blocks of our solar system that have been stored in a deep freeze for billions of years.”

Pluto is thought to be containing some of the most important clues about the origins of the Solar System. Astronomers believe that Pluto, Charon and the other moons are thought to be relics of the materials that originally built up to become the larger planets. This will be the first time that scientists can study this process as it happens.

“CDSCC has been involved in many of space exploration’s greatest moments, from capturing images of the first moon walk to receiving amazing views from the surface of Mars, and the first ‘close-ups’ of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune,” Dr Ball said; “Capturing Pluto will be the capstone of this amazing space adventure.”