After nine-and-a-half years and just over 5 billion km, the much anticipated and incredibly long awaited close-up view of Pluto is finally over.

[Music play and text appears: New Horizons]

[Image changes to show telescope dishes]

[Camera pans over the telescope dishes]

[Image changes to show Dr Lewis Ball – Director – CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science]

Dr Lewis Ball: So we’ve had a very long relationship with NASA, going back nearly 50-years. CSIRO’s been involved in bringing back the images of the first man walking on the moon, of the close encounters with Mars, with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and now with the mission that’s about to arrive at Pluto.

[Image changes to show Dr Ed Kruzins – Director – Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex]

Dr Ed Kruzins: The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex’s role in the mission is to track the spacecraft over its nine year period. We were there for the launch, taking data and making sure it’s safe and operating correctly, monitoring along its way and doing mid-course corrections from signals that we received from the United States through our antennas to the New Horizons spacecraft. It is the last planet yet to be explored by NASA and probably going to be the most exciting.

[Image changes back to Dr Lewis Ball]

Dr Lewis Ball: Pluto is an enigmatic object. We know that for many, many years it was classified as a planet and then somewhat controversially it was reclassified. It’s an icy world, it will help us to understand the nature of how Pluto and its’ moons have formed, how these bodies in our solar system are created, and to understand the nature of other parts of our solar system, too. So it really is an opportunity to open a whole new window on the nature of some of the most mysterious parts of our own solar system.

[Images changes back to Dr Ed Kruzins]

 Dr Ed Kruzins: You’ll notice in the background the huge antennas that we have here. These are like huge ears listening in on whispers from deep space, and you need that ability because Pluto’s so far away. We’ll be taking a lot of data, because we’re a long way away the data rate coming back to the earth will be slow and as a result of that we expect to be taking quick data in the first few days, or hours, but the real long term data will be played back over nearly a year to 18-months, that’s how long it’s going to take to get the imagery back in detail.

[Image changes back to Dr Lewis Ball]

Dr Lewis Ball: You have to be patient when you want to explore the solar system ‘cause the distances are huge and even at the speeds that we can send spacecraft out to explore our solar system it simply takes a long time to get there. But we’ll be ready for that, we’ll bring back the images, the space tracking station at Tidbinbilla outside Canberra is the prime station for the close approach, so those images will come back to Earth for the first time through the Australian station and through that we’ll get a whole new understanding of this very distant, icy and mysterious world.

[Images changes back to Dr Ed Kruzins]

Dr Ed Kruzins: I reckon I’ve got one of the best jobs in the world, to be able to lead this station as Director. We’re never going to get a chance like this for another couple of hundred years, to get such a close up shot of Pluto. And like Magellan and Columbus and all those other explorers before us, New Horizons is in many ways the same kind of exploration. It’s an exciting and fantastic and historic moment and we are so proud, as Australians, to be able to play a very key part in the reception of these signals and to participate in the exploration of the solar system.

[Music plays and CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here]

CSIRO and the New Horizons Pluto mission

NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons will make its closest encounter with Pluto at exactly 9:49.57pm (AEST) tomorrow [14 July 2015].

CSIRO’s Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) will be the first place on Earth to receive the closest encounter images as it’s sent through from the space probe.

The world will see for the first time what Pluto actually looks like as the spacecraft flies 12,500 km above the surface, taking detailed measurements and images of the dwarf planet and its moons.

CDSCC is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network and is one of only three tracking stations in the world that has the technology and people with the capabilities to provide the vital two-way radio contact with spacecraft like New Horizons at such incredible distances from Earth.

 “We have tracked New Horizons since its launch in January 2006 and are currently receiving the latest images and telemetry from the spacecraft which allows the mission team to make decisions about course corrections and to begin the key science observations,” Director of the CDSCC Dr Ed Kruzins said.

Radio signals from New Horizons will take about 4.5 hours to reach the CDSCC.  By the time the signal reaches Earth they will be incredibly weak, practically tiny whispers. However thanks to the big dish’s high sensitivity on Earth at CDSCC , Pluto will come in loud and clear.

There will be so much data collected it will take up to a year before all of the images and science observations made by the spacecraft are fully transmitted back to Earth.

Head of CSIRO’s Astronomy and Space Science, Dr Lewis Balls said the New Horizons mission was one of the great explorations of our time.

“There is so much we don’t know and not just about Pluto, but also about similar worlds,” Dr Ball said.

“Reaching this part of our solar system has been a space science priority for years, because it holds building blocks of our solar system that have been stored in a deep freeze for billions of years.”

While Pluto was downgraded from a planet to a dwarf planet in 2006, it is thought to contain important clues about the origins of the Solar System. These icy bodies are thought to be relics of the materials that originally built up to become the larger planets. This will be the first time that scientists can study this process as it happens.

 “CDSCC has been involved in many of space exploration’s greatest moments, from capturing images of the first moon walk to receiving amazing views from the surface of Mars, and the first ‘close-ups’ of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune,” Dr Ball said.;

“Capturing Pluto will be the capstone of this amazing space adventure.

“CSIRO is capturing space history in the making. We will be rewriting textbooks and science that will be taught in the classrooms of tomorrow.”

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Images

  • Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex capturing whispers from space from the hills of Tidnbibilla, ACT.

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  • Deep Space Station 43 is the largest antenna in the southern hemisphere.

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  • Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon

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  • Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex tracking the New Horizons spacecraft every step of its space voyage.

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  • How the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex captures tiny whispers from outer space.

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  • Artist's rendering, Pluto's largest moon Charon rises over the frozen south pole surface of Pluto, casting a faint silvery luminescence across the distant planetary landscape.

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  • Three billion miles from Earth and just two and a half million miles from Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has taken its best image of four dark spots that continue to captivate.

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