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TAKE 27 LTD / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY TAKE 27 LTD / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
New Horizons spacecraft arriving at Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69. Beyond its July 2015 encounter with the Pluto System, the New Horizons spacecraft was designed for an extended mission to study Kuiper Belt objects; it carries extra hydrazine fuel, its communication system is built to work from far beyond Pluto, its power system is designed to last many years longer than the primary mission, and its scientific instruments were designed to record in very low light levels. In the summer of 2014, the Hubble Space Telescope was used to discover five Kuiper Belt objects, potential targets for New Horizons; that was subsequently reduced to two, one of which became Potential Target 1 (PT1), the object 2014 MU69. The spacecraft carried out manoeuvers in October and November 2015 to put it on course for PT1, arriving 31st December 2018 or 1st January 2019. 2014 MU69 is a classical Kuiper Belt Object, with a low eccentricity and low inclination orbit in the 40-50 astronomical unit range, not crossing the orbit of Neptune, and not in resonance with Neptune. This orbit suggests it has not undergone major perturbations, and as such is characteristic of outer Solar System objects as they formed 4.6 billion years ago. It is estimated to have a diameter between 30km and 45km, with an orbital period of 293 years.
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