NASA determines the next likely target destination for a flyby by New Horizons, a small object in the Kuiper Belt called 2014MU69. It orbits almost a billion miles away from Pluto. A full proposal about the mission will be evaluated by NASA experts before the go ahead is officially given. NASA Science Mission Directorate Chief Grunsfeld:
Even as the New Horizon’s spacecraft speeds away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt, and the data from the exciting encounter with this new world is being streamed back to Earth, we are looking outward to the next destination for this intrepid explorer. While discussions whether to approve this extended mission will take place in the larger context of the planetary science portfolio, we expect it to be much less expensive than the prime mission while still providing new and exciting science.
After a hard political battle, President Bush signs an omnibus bill which includes $110 million in initial funding for NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt System. The funding allows the team to proceed with the final design of the probe.
It’s like the old days. We are going to the frontier. We’re going back to the roots of the space program.
As the New Horizons team studies the mission and their launch window, they realize that they can get the probe to Pluto a year earlier than anticipated.
This [is] a great opportunity to improve our scientific return while reducing mission risks and costs. We’ll get a better look at Pluto itself, since more of the surface will be sunlit and the atmosphere will be another year away from freezing onto the planet’s surface. We’ll have more fuel for the journey into the Kuiper Belt after exploring Pluto-Charon, and the shorter cruise time reduces some of the costs associated with flight operations.
NASA selects the New Horizons proposal from Southwest Research Institute for a mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt System. Director of SRI space studies:
We’ll be exploring frontier worlds near the edge of the planetary system. This mission is likely to rewrite textbooks regarding the origin of the planets, the nature of the outer solar system, and even the origin of primitive materials that may have played a role in the development of life.