Poised for Pluto ... and beyond!

New Horizons launch photos

The New Horizons spacecraft, which will become the first to ever visit Pluto, undergoes final processing at the Kennedy Space Center's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on Nov. 4, 2005, for its launch to the tiny icy world Jan 19. New Horizons will arrive at Pluto in July of 2015, having made the fastest journey into the outer solar system by any spacecraft thus far. After revealing what Pluto looks like for the first time, the $650 million New Horizons mission may visit two other objects in the Kuiper Belt before journeying out of our solar system to wander the galaxy forever. It will be just the fifth probe ever launched on such an escape trajectory, and the first since 1977, joining Voyagers 1 & 2 and Pioneers 10 & 11.

New Horizons is powered by one Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, or RTG, which converts the radiation from the decay of Plutonium-238 into energy to power the spacecraft (about 200 Watts). An active, electrically-powered and nearly identical simulator of the RTG, without plutonium, is seen here as the large black-colored cylinder with radiator fins, which is keeping the spacecraft powered during processing before launch.

The clean room in which New Horizons is being processed is lit with orange high-pressure sodium lamps, providing a tough situation for photography. Thus, many of these photos may exhibit an orange or yellow cast, while others may have the spacecraft lit naturally using a flash while the background retains the cast. The spacecraft is insulated with an outer layer of golden foil (Multi-layer Insulation or MLI) to protect it from the extreme temperature differences in space, while the walls of the facility are naturally white.
The huge payload fairing of the Atlas 5 rocket that will take New Horizons into orbit looms in the background:
A closeup of the RTG simulator:
An off-color view of the giant payload fairing for the Atlas 5 rocket, which will protect New Horizons during launch: