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Engineers have decided to keep the New Horizons spacecraft on its original fly-by path past Pluto, scheduled for July 2015.
The New Horizons team recently completed an 18-month study of potential impact hazards – mostly dust created by objects hitting Pluto’s small satellites – the spacecraft would face as it speeds some 30,000 miles per hour (more than 48,000 kilometers per hour) past Pluto in July 2015. The team estimated that the probability of a mission-ending dust impact was less than 0.3 percent if the spacecraft followed the current baseline plan, far below some early, more conservative estimates. So, with the concurrence of an independent review panel and NASA, the project team expects to keep New Horizons on this baseline course, which includes a close approach of about 12,500 kilometers (nearly 7,800 miles) from the surface of Pluto.