NASA has picked up a possible next destination for New Horizons’s mission. After its historic flyby of Pluto, which started on July 14, 2015, New Horizons spacecraft is planned to visit 2014MU69, a rock that belongs to the Kuiper Belts Objects.

2014 MU69 orbits about billion miles beyond Pluto and it is an ancient icy rock conforming one of the rocks of the Kuiper Belts Objects (KBO). Even if this is a potentially next destination for New Horizons mission, NASA is still evaluating the mission’s outreach before making a final decision about it.

New Horizons. Credits: Slash Gear

The Kuiper belt is a vast region that contains trillions of icy rocks and chunks. It is sometimes referred to as Kuiper Belt Objects. The Kuiper Belt hosts three dwarf planets: Pluto, Haumea, and Makemake. Located at the orbit of Neptune, this region is composed of bodies, rocks and remains of the early solar system during its formation 4.6 millions of years ago.

According to Simon Porter, a researcher of the New Horizons missions, the Kuiper Belt in general and specifically the 2014 MU69 have suffered no changes since its formation. They remain intact regarding their classical shape, features, and original location.

Due to its very small size -about 30 miles across, MU69 cannot be observed by astronomers on Earth and very little is known about this KBO’s cold object. Features that make it a potential next destination as part of the extended mission of New Horizons spacecraft.

Most of NASA’s explorations are distinguished by extending their targets when the main one is completed. It is about keep going on explorations on space and NASA’s group of researchers hopes New Horizons spacecraft could get to the icy rock, 2014 MU69, a great feat never accomplished before for a space vehicle for Earth.

In order to accomplish the target, New Horizons team must present a proposal to the agency to get funding and be able to carry out a mission on a KBO body.  

The early detection of a possible next destination was significant because of the current location of the spacecraft. New Horizons team must know, in advance , which direction to take keeping in mind the fuel the spacecraft is consuming.

Considering that New Horizons was launched to space in 2006 as part of a mission to Pluto, 2014 MU69 represents a perfect target due to its proximity to the formerly considered planet.

New Horizons could take advantage of the fuel to visit an unknown object of the Kuiper Belt; an opportunity that could bring researchers more hints about solar system formation. It could bring also the possibility of saving important amounts of fuel to face future unexpected events.

Source: NASA