«After a voyage of nearly nine years and three billion miles … NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft came out of hibernation today for its long-awaited 2015 encounter with the Pluto system," NASA said on its website on Saturday.
According to NASA, the spacecraft is presently more than 2.9 billion miles away from Earth and some 162 million miles from Pluto.
New Horizons sends radio signal at light speed back to Earth, and it takes 4.5 hours for the signal to reach NASA’s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia.
Specialists at NASA are set to spend the next several weeks ensuring that the spacecraft systems operate properly, testing computer-command sequences that will guide New Horizons to the Pluto system.
The spacecraft’s main task is to explore Pluto and its moons in 2015, with the observation beginning in the forthcoming January. New Horizons is expected to approach Pluto at the closest distance on July 14 and provide views of the Pluto system before that.
The New Horizons spacecraft was launched on January 19, 2006, and spent 1,873 days in hibernation, which is about two-thirds of its flight time. Hibernation was used in order to keep the spacecraft components in a better condition and to decrease the risk of system failures.