The New Horizons Radio Science Experiment: Expected Performance in Measurements of Pluto's Atmospheric Structure, Surface Pressure, and Surface Temperature
Wednesday, 17 December 2014: 9:12 AM
The New Horizons (NH) payload includes a Radio Science Experiment (REX) for investigating key characteristics of Pluto and Charon during the upcoming flyby in July 2015. REX flight equipment augments the NH radio transceiver used for spacecraft communications and tracking. The REX hardware implementation requires 1.6 W and 160 g. This presentation will focus on the final design and the predicted performance of two high-priority observations. First, REX will receive signals from a pair of 70-m antennas on Earth – each transmitting 20 kW at 4.2-cm wavelength – during a diametric radio occultation by Pluto. The data recorded by REX will reveal the surface pressure, the temperature structure of the lower atmosphere, and the surface radius. Second, REX will measure the thermal emission from Pluto at 4.2-cm wavelength during two linear scans across the disk at close range when both the dayside and the nightside are visible, allowing the surface temperature and its spatial variations to be determined. Both scans extend from limb to limb with a resolution of about 10 pixels; one bisects Pluto whereas the second crosses the winter pole. We will illustrate the capabilities of REX by reviewing the method of analysis and the precision achieved in a lunar occultation observed by New Horizons in May 2011. Re-analysis of radio occultation measurements by Voyager 2 at Triton is also under way. More generally, REX objectives include a radio occultation search for Pluto’s ionosphere; examination of Charon through both radio occultation and radiometry; a search for a radar echo from Pluto’s surface; and improved knowledge of the Pluto system mass and the Pluto-Charon mass ratio from a combination of two-way and one-way Doppler frequency measurements.