Washington: NASA's New Horizons spacecraft that sped past the Pluto planet in July has just started intensive downlinking of the tens of gigabits of data it collected and stored on its digital recorders.
According to NASA, the process moves into high gear on Saturday, September 5, and it will take about one year for the spacecraft to transmit all of its Pluto data back to the Earth.
That's because New Horizons spacecraft can only send data at around 1–4 kilobytes per second.
And even moving at light speed, the radio signals from New Horizons containing data need more than 4 ½ hours to cover the 3 billion miles to reach Earth, said NASA.
“This is what we came for - these images, spectra and other data types that are going to help us understand the origin and the evolution of the Pluto system for the first time,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.
“And what’s coming is not just the remaining 95 percent of the data that’s still aboard the spacecraft - it’s the best datasets, the highest-resolution images and spectra, the most important atmospheric datasets, and more. It’s a treasure trove. ”
The team also plans to continue posting raw photos from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on the New Horizons project website each Friday. The images are available at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/soc/Pluto-Encounter/index.php
Since late July, New Horizons has only been sending back lower data-rate information collected by the energetic particle, solar wind and space dust instruments. The pace picks up considerably on September 5 as it resumes sending flyby images and other data.
New Horizons spacecraft made its close flyby of Pluto on July 14, when the probe came within 7,800 miles of the icy planet's surface. The spacecraft became the first-ever space mission to explore the icy planet.