A day before NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft closes in on a frozen outpost nicknamed Ultima Thule 4.1 billion miles from Earth, basic facts about the city-sized object continued to elude scientists Sunday as the ground team braced for a deluge of data and imagery that should unmask the unexplored world at the frontier of the solar system.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made a historic New Year’s encounter with an object nicknamed Ultima Thule in the Kuiper Belt a billion miles beyond Pluto. The NASA space probe passed Ultima Thule at a distance of around 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) at 12:33 a.m. EST (0533 GMT) on Jan. 1, making it the most distant planetary body ever explored up close.
After unusual concentrations of hydrogen around the rocket foiled a launch attempt Dec. 19, United Launch Alliance said Friday that the company’s powerful Delta 4-Heavy launcher and a U.S. government spy satellite will remain grounded in California until at least Jan. 6 as engineers troubleshoot a small fuel leak.
China’s space program is sprinting toward the end of the year by extending the country’s record-breaking launch rate, with two more space missions lifting off in the last week carrying a pathfinder for a planned constellation of Internet satellites and a mysterious payload heading for geostationary orbit. At least one more Long March rocket is set to lift off Saturday to close out 2018.
A Russian Soyuz rocket lifted off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia’s Far East on Thursday carrying 28 satellites, including a pair of Russian mapping satellites, secondary payloads from Germany, Japan, Spain, South Africa, and a dozen Earth-observing CubeSats and eight commercial weather payloads for Planet and Spire.