MONTREAL – Frederic Pelletier boldly predicts that he and his team will receive the New Horizons spacecraft just where it should be on the New Year – 1.6 billion km from Pluto to a rendezvous with a space rock known as Ultima Tule.
The mission of NASA is to pass from a region known as the Kuiper Belt and send data back to Earth that can help explain the origins of the solar system. The space of Ultima Thule is described by the space agency as "the farthest exploration of any planetary body in history."
NASA says that by exploring a region outside Pluto, scientists can learn more about comets, small planets, and other material dating back to the time of the formation of planets – 4.5 billion years ago in the past.
By the time the space ship New Horizons makes its closest approach to Ultima Thule – scheduled for 12:33 AM Eastern Time on January 1, 2019 – the vehicle will be 6.6 billion kilometers from Earth.
"It's very difficult, we do not have much information about (Ultima Thule)," Pelletheus said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. "I'm a little nervous, but I'm sure … all the stars are aligned."
NASA signed Pelletium as the chief spacecraft navigator for the New Horizons mission, whose original plan was to fly past Pluto. The team reached its goal when the vehicle managed to fly from the dwarf planet on July 14, 2015 and sent back the data "resulting in deep new insights about Pluto and its moons," according to the website of the space agency.
The trip behind Pluto to the Kuiper Belt is part of an expanded mission.
Pellet and his eight-member team are responsible for the delivery of the spacecraft, which is the size of a piano for babies, to the finish.
It will fly with "Ultima Tule" at a distance of about 3,500 kilometers, which will pass 14 kilometers per second – or 50,000 kilometers per hour. He compared Poultry with a car in a car trying to look at the lantern.
"It happens with a really quick," he said.
Pelletry says scientists estimate Ultima Thule is of the same size as Washington DC.
"It is estimated that it now has a diameter of 30 kilometers," said Pelletius. "We suspect it will not be spherical, there will be some strange form. There is also the possibility that it will be a binary asteroid – two objects that touch each other or in close form."
What made the task even more challenging for Quebec's hometown is the fact that it takes six hours for the Earth's signal to reach the spacecraft and six more hours to return.
"So, when we plan maneuvers to make touch and upgrades, we should take this into account," Pelleti noted.
The space ship "New Horizons" broke out on January 19, 2006, for a trip to Pluto, and by 2015 it moves deeper into space. The mission is hosted by an applied physical laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, MD, where Peletia and his team work.
Ultima Thule was first discovered in 2014 using the Hubble Space Telescope, which means the rock was discovered only after the launch of New Horizons.
NASA says scientists estimate that there are several hundred objects with a diameter greater than 30 kilometers waiting to be discovered in what is known as the "third zone" of our solar system.
"I am a researcher," said Pelleti. "I want to go to places (which are) unexplored – we are on the edge of the solar system. The cupper belt was discovered only in the 90s."
Until the January 1 flight, Peleti will continue to follow Ultima Tule, which barely gives him time to celebrate his 44th birthday on Friday, December 28th.
But his wife and two boys, aged 9 and 12, will fly to Maryland to join him in the coming days.
Pellet worked on a number of other space missions, including the journey that the Cassini spacecraft took to Saturn, and also participated in Mars Curiosity landing.
Peter Rakobouchuk, Canadian Press