New Horizons launch contingency effort

Yale Chang, Matthew H. Lear, Brian E. McGrath, Gene A. Heyler, Naruhisa Takashima, W. Donald Owings

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

2 Scopus citations


On 19 January 2006 at 2:00 PM EST, the NASA New Horizons spacecraft (SC) was launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), FL, onboard an Atlas V 551/Centaur/STAR™ 48B launch vehicle (LV) on a mission to explore the Pluto Charon planetary system and possibly other Kuiper Belt Objects. It carried a single Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG). As part of the joint NASA/US Department of Energy (DOE) safety effort, contingency plans were prepared to address the unlikely events of launch accidents leading to a near-pad impact, a suborbital reentry, an orbital reentry, or a heliocentric orbit. As the implementing organization, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL) had expanded roles in the New Horizons launch contingency effort over those for the Cassini mission and Mars Exploration Rovers missions. The expanded tasks included participation in the Radiological Control Center (RADCC) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), preparation of contingency plans, coordination of space tracking assets, improved aerodynamics characterization of the RTG's 18 General Purpose Heat Source (GPHS) modules, and development of spacecraft and RTG reentry breakup analysis tools. Other JHU/APL tasks were prediction of the Earth impact footprints (EIFs) for the GPHS modules released during the atmospheric reentry (for purposes of notification and recovery), prediction of the time of SC reentry from a potential orbital decay, pre-launch dissemination of ballistic coefficients of various possible reentry configurations, and launch support of an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on the JHU/APL campus. For the New Horizons launch, JHU/APL personnel at the RADCC and at the EOC were ready to implement any real-time launch contingency activities. A successful New Horizons launch and interplanetary injection precluded any further contingency actions. The New Horizons launch contingency was an interagency effort by several organizations. This paper describes JHU/APL's roles and responsibilities in the launch contingency effort, and the specific tasks to fulfill those responsibilities. The overall effort contributed to mission safety and demonstrated successful cooperation between several agencies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSpace Technology and Applications International Forum, STAIF 2007, including Co-located Conferences
Number of pages7
StatePublished - 2007
EventSpace Technology and Applications International Forum: Space Renaissance: Inspiring the Next Generation, STAIF-2007 - Albuquerque, NM, United States
Duration: Feb 11 2007Feb 15 2007

Publication series

NameAIP Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)0094-243X
ISSN (Electronic)1551-7616


ConferenceSpace Technology and Applications International Forum: Space Renaissance: Inspiring the Next Generation, STAIF-2007
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityAlbuquerque, NM

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Physics and Astronomy

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