Thales supplied amplifiers for the New Horizons spacecraft to take the farthest images ever taken from Earth

Thales supplied amplifiers for the New Horizons spacecraft to take the farthest images ever taken from Earth

12 years spent travelling the cosmos. 4 hours for the images to travel back.

La Défense, France, 22-Mar-2018 — /EuropaWire/ — Thales has been helping to document the final frontier ever since humanity first ventured into space. Thales technologies were there to record Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon, are there to help map out the furthest reaches of the cosmos, and will be there when machines once again roam the surface of Mars. Thales was also present a few months ago, when a spacecraft called New Horizons sent us amazing photographs from 6.12bn kilometers away, farther afield than ever before.

Key Points

  • Thales has been helping to document the final frontier ever since the beginning of the Space Age.
  • Thales supplied amplifiers that helped the New Horizons spacecraft take the farthest images ever taken from Earth.
  • The images reveal the existence of two large objects deep inside the Kuiper Belt, which could potentially be full-sized planets.

Launched by NASA in 2006, New Horizons is an interplanetary spacecraft whose primary mission was to reach Pluto and to study the Kuiper Belt.

In December 2017, New Horizons trained its digital eyes towards its final destination to take the first photos of the Kuiper Belt. What resulted was both a record breaking moment for space travel and a discovery that could prove ground-breaking in our understanding of the solar system.

New Horizons took several images from a distance of 6.12 billion kilometers from Planet Earth, making it the farthest ever spacecraft to successfully take images and beam them back to us. The images reveal a large object deep inside the Kuiper Belt that could potentially be a full-sized rocky planet.

The photographs taken during New Horizons’ routine calibration, surpass even those taken by the legendary Voyager 1 spacecraft, that sent us a now iconic image of Earth taken from 6.06 billion kilometers away.

Thales works for those who have big ambitions, it’s what defines us. There are few bigger ambitions than NASA’s efforts in exploring the cosmos and pushing back the curtain of darkness that surrounds our planet. We’re incredibly proud that our cutting-edge range of traveling wave tubes and amplifiers help NASA to break such records with the pioneering planetary exploration spacecraft, New Horizons.
Jean Jacques Guittard, Thales Vice President, microwave imaging subsystems

Sending a picture of something this distant is only possible with Thales traveling wave tubes and amplifiers. The New Horizons LORRI CCD monochromatic camera (1024×1024 pixels) delivers a 12-bit digital signal. To be transmitted from a satellite to Earth, images like any other digital data (command and control of the satellite for example) are then transformed into a modulated baseband analog signal, which is carried by a microwave signal (X-band in this case). This X-band signal is amplified by the TWTA and then radiated toward Earth through a large antenna dish. Because of the huge satellite-Earth distance, the received signal on Earth is very weak, limiting the transmit data rate to approximately 1 kbit. X-band on-board amplifiers are using TWT (Traveling Wave Tubes) supplied by Thales, 15W each in a dual configuration (amplifiers are also redundant, to have a backup in case of problem). Thales has been the undisputed world leader in RF technologies since the dawn of the Space Age, and today it continues to have an impact on the discovery of the farthest reaches of the solar system.

But beyond the sheer scale of this record that Thales helped to achieve, is the potential for scientific discovery. Ever since Pluto was reclassified from a planet to a dwarf planet in 2006, the scientific community has been speculating on the composition of Kuiper Belt objects. Scientists are especially excited by the prospect of finding the so-called Planet 9, a hypothesized world beyond the plutonian orbit – about 75 times farther than Pluto’s distance from the Sun – deep inside the Kuiper Belt. The objects’ existence could shed more light on the formation and early composition of the Solar System and significantly advance our understanding of orbital mechanics and planetary formation. Could one of these objects be the 9th planet? Our brave little explorer New Horizons might just give us the answer soon, with a little help from Thales. The incredible keeps on coming.

SOURCE: Thales Group

Giaime Porcu, Media relations Civil Aerospace
+33 (0)1 57 77 92 18

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