Montreal – Frederic Peltier predicts unexpectedly that he and his crew will receive the new Horizons spacecraft exactly where it is supposed to be on New Year's Day – 1.6 billion miles beyond Pluto to meet with a space rock known as Ultima Thule.
NASA's mission is to pass through the area known as the Kuiper Belt and send data back to Earth that can help explain the origins of the solar system. "Ultima's thesis is described by Space Agency as" the farthest investigation of any planetary body in history " .
NASA says by exploring the Pluto transit region, scientists can learn more about comets, small planets and other materials that dates back to the era when planets were formed – 4.5 billion years ago.
When the new Horizons spacecraft receives its closest approach to Ultima Tula, scheduled for 12:33 am on January 1, 2019, the vehicle will be 6.6 billion kilometers from Earth.
"It's very difficult, we do not have a lot of information about (Ultima Thule)," said Pelletier in a recent interview with the Canadian newspaper. "I'm a bit nervous, but I feel safe … all the stars are aligned."
NASA has cut off Peltier as NASA's main navigator for New Horizons, whose original plan was to fly to Pluto, where the team reached its target when the vehicle was successfully flown by the dwarf planet on July 14, 2015 and sent back data " On Pluto and its moon, "according to the space agency's website.
The journey beyond Pluto to the Kuiper belt is part of the extended mission.
Pelletier and his eight-member team are responsible for delivering the spacecraft, which is the size of a grand piano, to the target.
He will fly by an ultima hanging at a distance of about 3,500 kilometers, 14 kilometers per second – or 50,000 kilometers per hour.
"It goes very fast," he said.
Pletier said that scientists estimate that the Ultima Hula will be about the same size as Washington.
"It's estimated to be a 30-kilometer diameter now," said Pelletier, "We suspect it will not be spherical, that there will be some strange shape, and there is also a possibility that it will be a binary asteroid – two objects touching each other or in a nearby structure."
What made the task even more challenging for the city of Quebec City is the fact that it takes six hours for the signal from Earth to reach the spacecraft and another six hours to return.
"Therefore, when we plan to carry out maneuvers and updates, we need to take this into consideration," noted Pelletier.
The New Horizons spacecraft bombed January 19, 2006 for Pluto, and since 2015 it has become deeper in space. The mission is hosted by the Applied Physical Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Md., Where Pelletier and his team work.
Ultima Thule was first discovered in 2014 using the Hubble Space Telescope, meaning that the rock was discovered only after the launch of new horizons.
According to NASA, scientists estimate that there are several hundred objects with a diameter of more than 30 kilometers waiting to be discovered in what is called the "third area" of our solar system.
"I'm an investigator," said Pelletier. "I like going to places that have not been studied – we are on the edge of the solar system, Kuiper's belt was discovered only in the 1990s."
By January 1, Pelletier will continue to follow Ultima Tula, barely giving him time to celebrate his 44th birthday on Friday, December 28.
But his wife and two sons, aged 9 and 12, will be flown to Maryland to join him in the next few days.
Pelletier worked on a number of other space missions, including the voyage of the Cassini spacecraft took Saturn, and he also attended Mars landing curiosity.
Peter Rakbowc, Canadian Press