Wilma forcing New Horizons watch

by Chris Bergin

As the Atlas V – which will carry the New Horizons spacecraft into space for a mission to Pluto – is receiving its boosters at Cape Canaveral, officials are reviewing contingency plans as Hurricane Wilma continues to threaten Florida.

The Lockheed Martin Atlas V now has one of its five boosters strapped on to the main rocket, which will launch at a projected January 11, 2006.

Wilma, currently a Category 4 hurricane, is expected to pick up power to return to a Category 5 before westerly winds swing Wilma on to a beeline with Florida’s west coast.

While it will decrease in power before it reaches the east coast – where Cape Canaveral is located – the New Horizons and Delta teams are making sure they aren’t caught out by Wilma. Late last night the spacecraft test team noted they are reviewing contingency plans due to the threat.

The second booster was scheduled to be mated to the Atlas V today at Launch Complex 41, with all five boosters scheduled to be attached by mid-November. However, that schedule is now being reviewed by officials due to Wilma.

The New Horizons spacecraft is currently undergoing a series of mission simulation testing – which will continue through Friday. The Centaur stage was hoisted atop the Atlas booster on October 11, and mating to the Atlas was completed last Sunday.

The mission involved the initial reconnaissance of Pluto, while it will also visit and research the planet’s moon, Charon and the Kuiper Belt of icy bodies.

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