Science instruments
Southwest Research Institute
San Antonio, TX

ImageNASA’s New Horizons probe will be the first to visit Pluto and its moon, Charon. The spacecraft will carry a payload of seven science instruments for examining the geology, composition, surface, temperature, and atmospheric structure of the planet and moon. The payload was developed by Southwest Research Institute and tested at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland before being integrated with the spacecraft at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

The payload consists of three optical instruments, two plasma instruments, a dust sensor, and a radio science receiver/radiometer. The optical instruments are Alice, an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer; Ralph, a visible and infrared camera for color maps and surface composition maps; and LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager), which will image Pluto’s surface, resolving features as small as 50 yards across.

The plasma instruments are SWAP (Solar Wind Around Pluto), which will measure charged particles from the solar wind near Pluto, and PEPSSI (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) to search for neutral atoms that escape Pluto’s atmosphere. SDC (Student Dust Counter) counts and measures dust particles along the spacecraft’s trajectory, and REX (Radio Science Experiment) is a circuit board integrated with the spacecraft’s radio telecommunications system that will study Pluto’s atmospheric structure.

Now at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the spacecraft was scheduled at press time for a launch window set to open on January 11.

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