Further to that, it takes at least four and a half hours for the spacecraft to send data to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., as New Horizons is now 3 billion miles away from Earth.
The command sequence error that caused New Horizons to go dark was a “hard-to-detect timing flaw”, Nasa explained.
The closest encounter that the spacecraft will have to Pluto is scheduled on July 14, where it will take the first up-close observation of what the dwarf planet looks like.
“I’m pleased that our mission team quickly identified the problem and assured the health of the spacecraft”, Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science, said in the update.
After a nine-year journey that began in January 2006, New Horizons is expected to pass within 10,000 km of Pluto on that day. In the beginning, Pluto was seen in beige and orange and Charon, its largest moon, was appearing gray.
NASA’s New Horizon cost $700 million and was launched in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
According to Discovery News, the mission control team lost radio signal communication with the spacecraft for about 80 minutes when it put itself in an automated safe mode. The probe is only ten days from its July 14 Pluto flyby. However, the spacecraft’s systems have entered safe mode until mission engineers can diagnose the problem.
A map imaging the New Horizons full trajectory- Pluto flyby.
NASA says the science lost as a result of the computer glitch and recovery will not impact the overall mission goals or next week’s flyby.
Sending commands to, and receiving data from, New Horizons takes awhile due to the vast distance between the craft and Earth.
“We’re working it, folks”, principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, wrote on a Facebook fan page about Pluto. In fact, the spacecraft won’t even have to change its science mission plans, which would have been the case had any software or hardware been damaged during the anomaly.