NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has a potential new target to fly past located nearly one billion miles beyond Pluto in the Kuiper Belt.
Called 2014 MU69, the object is a totally unknown Kuiper world. Discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope last year, is estimated to be under 30 miles in diameter or between 0.5 and 1 percent of Pluto’s size.
Before New Horizons reaches the Kuiper Belt object a proposal will have to be evaluated by an independent team of experts before the flyby is officially approved.
“While discussions whether to approve this extended mission will take place in the larger context of the planetary science portfolio, we expect it to be much less expensive than the prime mission while still providing new and exciting science,” John Grunsfeld, chief of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.
The object was chosen in part for its location. It will cost less fuel to reach it than other candidates. New Horizons is equipped with a battery that converts radiation from decaying plutonium into electricity. New Horizons loses about a few watts of power each year but is estimated to have as much as 20 years left in its life expectancy.
If the mission is approved and the spacecraft maneuvered properly, PT1 (nicknam for potential target 1) will reach the target on Jan. 1, 2019.