New Horizons Radio Science Experiment
A substantial to near total failure due to lack of participating Radio Telescopes

General Information on New Horizons (NH) mission to Pluto-Sharon

Except for the current Deep Space Network sites already able to intercept the New Horizons telemetry, there are no other radio astronomy sites (either single dishes or arrays) currently configured for the Pluto-Sharon Radio Science Experiment.

The Radio Science Experiment has a duration of under 24 hours, with about a core 18 hour mission critical window after the craft has passed the "midpoint" of Pluto (and or) Charon. The "midpoint window" itself may have a duration of less than 8 hours in total.

The total experiment time is less than 10 hours and more than 6 hours, based on the planned NH trajectory. Surveying Pluto's atmosphere with multiple ultrastable carrierwave beams -- the core part of the experiment -- will be done in less than 3 hours. Testing for Charon's atmosphere using the same approach will only last for 90 minutes, with a method that is not the same as Pluto as the whole moon will be illuminated by the ultrastable carrierwave.

The Deep Space Network (DSN) will be doing the core interception work for the experiment, but its its interception resources are stretched very thin as there are only 3 DSN sites on Earth


There is a real possibility of something going wrong during the Pluto-Sharon encounter at any (or all) of the Deep Space Network (DSN) dishes at any of the three DSN sites

  • Canberra (AU)
  • Madrid (ES)
  • Goldstone (US) 

A common failure mode that affects the Voyager and New Horizons telemetry : Rain Fade Events.

Rain fades are common at all the DSN sites. However Rain Fades are not the only real or problematic system risk that must be accounted for and compensated for with respect to the NH Radio Science Experiment.

Operating in "Array Mode" only partly mitigates the rain fade problem -- there may be carrier wave integrity loss for other reasons like

  • site equipment problems (malfunction or failure)
  • dotty atomic clocks
  • data recorder problems (too many to mention)
  • ... etc ...

DSN site specific failures can happen and do happen in spite of the redundancies.

The key here is to eliminate any and all possibility of a failure (or set of failures) at any one DSN site sabotaging the Radio Science Experiment in any way.

At each reception site (in the DSN, or more importantly : outside of the DSN) there needs to be at least 3 layers of redundancy (tracking dishes used, recording, data formats, data recorder clock synchronization, data recorder formats) for this event.

Important official entities that are impossible to find or simply unreachable

The American scientists (and NH Mission Control) that involved in creating this experiment and programming it into the NH command set are unreachable. At this time it is impossible to know what is going on with respect to this experiment.

  • There have been no New Horizons website updates on this experiment in 2014.
  • For all practical purposes the NH Radio Science Experiment can be considered "as abandoned" even though the Radio Science Experiment will proceed as programmed and as planned.

The Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) is the official international clearing house for information relating to transient astronomical events.

  • The CBAT collects and distributes information on comets, natural satellites, novae, supernovae and other transient astronomical events.
  • CBAT also establishes priority of discovery (who gets credit for it) and assigns initial designations and names to new objects.
  • The CBAT is a non-profit organization, but charges for its services to finance its continued operation.
  • CBAT unfortunately is profoundly unreachable by fax machine, as Harvard University (where it resides) is completely unable to run a simple Linux or BSD Fax Server probably due to its ongoing collapse as a functioning institution. This "institutional unreachablity" is a real problem for this particular kind of alert.
  • This geophysical alert has shown that CBAT should be considered a failed institution. Clearly CBAT is no longer able to accomplish its task. The only fix for CBAT is moving the entire institution to a new location outside of the US, to someplace like Sudbury Ontario.
CBAT has a Postbox
Mailstop 18; 60 Garden Street; Cambridge, MA; 02138; USA
-- not that one will be able to reach CBAT by post

The Minor Planet Center, or MPC, is the single worldwide location for receipt and distribution of positional measurements of minor planets, comets and outer irregular natural satellites of the major planets.

  • The MPC is responsible for the identification, designation and orbit computation for all of these objects.
  • This involves maintaining the master files of observations and orbits, keeping track of the discoverer of each object, and announcing discoveries to the rest of the world via electronic circulars and an extensive website.
  •  The MPC operates at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, under the auspices of "Division F" of the International Astronomical Union (IAU).

Astronomical Telegram Message Distribution Points (RSS, email + website)

Multiple systems and site redundancies are needed

for the Radio Science Experiment to succeed

Unlike any other radio science experiments that have been done on other outer planets in the solar system, this encounter is a one time event

  • New Horizons will not be orbiting around the Pluto-Sharon System.
  • New Horizon's approach velocity is way too high to slow it down without expending nearly all of its fuel.

The core Radio Science Experiment has not been updated since 2007, and should be considered abandoned, but will proceed as programmed 

Any nation that has a radio telescope that is capable of intercepting New Horizons is entitled to do so.

The Radio Science Experiment is open to any nation with a functioning radio telescope that has the right gear for this kind of occoltation experiment 
  • The recording the carrier wave data in as many forms as reasonably doable at most nation's radio telescope sites.
  • The larger the carrier wave interception data sets the better, as a large dataset of recordings in several different formats helps with the Doppler and "Dispersion & Dedispersion" issues.

Notable information availability fixes possible at NH Mission Control

It can take up to 40 days to get all the needed radio telescopes ready.

Most of the world's significant radio telescopes are already capable of doing the Radio Science Experiment in some capacity or other, with little added cost or site operations overhead

  1. There needs to be a receiver and data recorder audit at each dish site, to see what dishes are ready, if not the equipment needs to be acquired or at least borrowed. This can be accomplished in mere 2 weeks. 
  2. There will need to be a site configuration phase to either install and test or just test the recording equipment to see that it functions properly. This can take up to 2 weeks. 
  3. Overall radio telescope site encounter planning needs to be done, as staff will need to be on hand for the 12h that each dish may have Pluto-Sharon in azimuth view. This can take up to 2 weeks, but can be done in parallel with equipment installation. This can be phased into normal operations, so not difficult.
  4. If the site and dish or dishes are already ready (allowing steps 1 to 3 to be ignored) then the Radio Telescope site equipment needs to be programmed and calibrated for the encounter. This can take up to 2 weeks, but can be phased into normal operations.
  5. There needs to be at least 6 (preferably 12 or 24) carrier wave (and if possible ranging) intercept training sessions (of at least 2 hours) before the encounter ... there can be many bugs and gremlins to work out; 8 weekend and 8 weekday carrier wave training sessions are recommended to get all the bugs out.
  6. At 120 days before close encounter, NH will be making long range P-C system observations and sending all the data it can back to keep its primary encounter buffers empty.
  7. Then the encounter needs to proceed as planned. The carrier wave data recorders will need to  run for up to 8 hours at each intercepting dish or array.


The encounter carrierwave data will need to be recorded preferably at {32 bit floating point, per sample} at a sampling rate of at least 16k (but 32k to 96k rates are recommended). The filter width may need to be up to 15khz to compensate for frequency change due to Doppler effects related to the Earth's planetary motion over the 8 to 12 hour carrierwave intercept window.

Due to relativity and Doppler issues, other recording formats should also be used -- 16 bit integer (or 24 bit preferably) sampling at or below the 32k sample rate is acceptable.

IRIG or preferably CCSDS timecodes (and dish and array pointing metadata) should be embedded at a rate if least {one event per second} in band or out of band.

  • There will need to be a combining of all of the carrierwave data sets post encounter.
  • The digitization formats may somewhat vary, so some computing may be required to integrate the various dish arrays intercepted data sets.

It may be another 100 years before another spacecraft is able to visit the Pluto-Sharon system.

The margin for systems or site failure on Earth is clearly significant and substantial. The NH spacecraft may fail during the encounter phase in spite of all of the effort involved, but the possibility of this is quite small but still present.

This Radio Science Experiment must be done right, as it may not be possible to do it again for a very long time.

It is vitally important that (as many as possible) radio telescope carrier wave recording systems must be and set up (at all the additional sites that are physically able to accomplish this task) so as to avoid the possibility of systems failures on Earth.


Eurosphere (Eurasia)

North America



South America

  • Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ready, but may need some configuration and testing; only part of the array is needed, a quorum of 6 dishes is enough but 7 is preferred)

Australasia (most telescopes here CSIRO)

Indian Ocean Region
Created Last Updated Revision
Last Change Revision State
27 July 2014 27 July 2015
Update title, remove press text
Minor text fixes