How fast is the New Horizons spacecraft?

Google product developer Clay Bavor created a gif putting the Boeing 747 and SR-71 aircraft speeds into perspective compared to NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.

New Horizon’s Speed. This video was created by Google product developer Clay Bavor, puts our measly airplane speeds into perspective compared to NASA’s New Horizons probe, which just completed a speedy flyby of Pluto. The 747 travels at a speed of 885 km/h (550 mph), the Blackbird can reach a top speed of 4,345 km/h (2,700 mph) while New Horizons is currently moving at a staggering 57,936 km/h (36,000 mph).

NASA’s New Horizons probe started its fantastic voyage of exploration on January 19, 2006, aboard an Atlas V rocket. directly into an Earth-and-solar-escape trajectory with a speed of about 16.26 km/s (10.10 mi/s; 58,500 km/h; 36,400 mph). It was the fastest man-made object ever launched from Earth.

It swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007 which increased New Horizons’ speed, and conducted a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons in summer 2015, culminating with Pluto closest approach on July 14, 2015.

However, New Horizons is not the fastest spacecraft to leave the Solar System. As of January 2018, this record is held by Voyager 1, traveling at 16.985 km/s (61,146 km/h; 37,994 mph) relative to the Sun. Voyager 1 attained greater hyperbolic excess velocity than New Horizons thanks to gravity assists by both Jupiter and Saturn.

New Horizons flew 12,500 km (7,800 mi) above the surface of Pluto, making it the first spacecraft to explore the dwarf planet.

After completing Pluto flyby, it made a total of four trajectory changes in October and November 2015 to place itself on a course towards Ultima Thule, a trans-Neptunian object located in the Kuiper belt.

The Ultima Thule flyby occurred on January 1, 2019, when the spacecraft was 43.4 AU from the Sun.

The farthest object ever explored is slowly revealing its secrets, as scientists piece together the puzzles of Ultima Thule – the Kuiper Belt object NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past on New Year’s Day, four billion miles from Earth.

The Kuiper Belt stretches from about 30 (the orbit of Neptune) to about 55 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, which is located roughly between the orbits of the planets Mars and Jupiter but is far larger- 20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive. Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies or remnants from when the Solar System formed.

New Horizons speed
Artist’s conception depicting New Horizons spacecraft near Pluto. Pluto’s moon Charon, also known as (134340) Pluto I is in the background. New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as a part of NASA’s New Frontiers program. Engineered by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), with a team led by S. Alan Stern, the spacecraft was launched on January 19, 2006 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by an Atlas V rocket directly into an Earth-and-solar escape trajectory with a speed of about 16.26 kilometers per second (58,536 km/h; 36,373 mph). Its primary mission was perform a flyby study of the Pluto system in 2015. It has a secondary mission to fly by and study one or more other Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) in the decade to follow. It is the fifth of five artificial objects to achieve the escape velocity that will allow them to leave the Solar System (others being Pioneer 10 – launched in 1972, Pioneer 11 – launched in 1973, Voyager 2 – launched in August 1977, and Voyager 1 – Launched in September 1977). Image: NASA Goddard Media Studios


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