NASA’s New Horizons mission has been approved to explore an object deeper in the Kuiper Belt, known as 2014 MU69.
“The New Horizons mission to Pluto exceeded our expectations and even today the data from the spacecraft continue to surprise,” said NASA’s Director of Planetary Science Jim Green. “We’re excited to continue onward into the dark depths of the outer solar system to a science target that wasn’t even discovered when the spacecraft launched.”
The spacecraft’s planned rendezvous with 2014 MU69, is January 1, 2019.
In addition to the extension of the New Horizons mission, NASA is keeping the Dawn spacecraft around the dwarf planet Ceres, rather than changing course to the main belt asteroid Adeona.
“The long-term monitoring of Ceres, particularly as it gets closer to perihelion — the part of its orbit with the shortest distance to the sun — has the potential to provide more significant science discoveries than a flyby of Adeona,” said Green.
Many other NASA spacecraft may be receiving additional mission extensions, such as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rovers, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).