New Horizons wakes up for its next historic journey

Posted: June 19, 2018

When NASA's New Horizons spacecraft photographed the closest photos of Pluto in history, technology from The Ohio State University was on board making it possible. 

After this stunning performance of science in July 2015, New Horizons then went into communication hibernation, as it traveled thousands of miles per hour in radio silence. 

Word from NASA this week, however, reports New Horizons awoke to prepare for its historic New Year's Day flyby at the edge of the Milky Way.

Over a decade ago, Ohio State engineers at the ElectroScience Lab began assisting Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) engineer and alumnus Ron Schulze, in the testing and calibration of his high gain dish antenna design for the New Horizons probe. It remains one of seven instruments currently collecting data from space.

Read an IEEE interview with Schulze.

Antennas provide focused and narrow radio wave beam widths, allowing for more precise targeting of radio signals.

From 1989 to 1991 Schulze earned his MS degree at Ohio State, studying under the academic guidance of former ESL director, Dr. Walter Dennis Burnside. Still employed with APL today, Schulze said the project remains a highlight of his career. 

“I was introduced to the art of antenna measurements and design,” Schulze said.

After graduation, he became lead engineer at APL for the New Horizons antenna system in support of NASA’s mission to Pluto. The project pointed him right back to Ohio State.

At ESL, Schulze worked for months with Ohio State staff, primarily Dr. Willie Theunissen, now a principal radio frequency engineer at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Colorado.

Read more about Ohio State's involvement in the article, "Ohio State ECE and the New Horizons Mission to Pluto."

For the scientific community, the New Horizons probe remains an achievement in engineering that has already graced the cover of countless tech magazines, as well as National Geographic. For those involved in the creation of the probe, it’s been a time of long-anticipated celebrations.

The New Horizons probe has been in hibernation mode since Dec. 21 to preserve resources. On June 5, however, the mission operations team at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory received confirmation, through NASA's Deep Space Network, that the spacecraft had exited hibernation, as it was programmed to do.

The spacecraft will now begin preparations for an encounter with the farthest planetary boundaries in history.

The spacecraft is currently traveling more than 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) away from Earth through the icy band of debris surrounding the solar system beyond Neptune called the Kuiper Belt. It will spend the upcoming months preparing for its encounter with a small Kuiper Belt object, nicknamed Ultima Thule.