<<Observations of Pluto, with LORRI plus Ralph, will begin about 6 months prior to closest approach. The targets will be only a few pixels across. This should detect any rings or any additional moons (eventually down to 2 kilometers diameter), for avoidance and targeting maneuvers, and observation scheduling. 70 days out, resolution will exceed the Hubble Space Telescope's resolution, lasting another two weeks after the flyby. Long-range imaging will include 40 km (25 mi) mapping of Pluto and Charon 3.2 days out. This is half the rotation period of Pluto-Charon and will allow imaging of the side of both bodies that will be facing away from the spacecraft at closest approach. Coverage will repeat twice per day, to search for changes due to snows or cryovolcanism. Still, due to Pluto's tilt and rotation, a portion of the northern hemisphere will be in shadow at all times.
During the flyby, LORRI should be able to obtain select images with resolution as high as 50 m/px (if closest distance is around 10,000 km), and MVIC should obtain 4-color global dayside maps at 1.6 km resolution. LORRI and MVIC will attempt to overlap their respective coverage areas to form stereo pairs. LEISA will obtain hyperspectral near-infrared maps at 7 km/px globally and 0.6 km/pixel for selected areas. Meanwhile, Alice
will characterize the atmosphere, both by emissions of atmospheric molecules (airglow), and by dimming of background stars as they pass behind Pluto (occultation).
A simulated view of New Horizons passing Pluto and Charon when it arrives in 2015.
During and after closest approach, SWAP and PEPSSI will sample the high atmosphere and its effects on the solar wind. VBSDC will search for dust, inferring meteoroid collision rates and any invisible rings. REX will perform active and passive radio science. Ground stations on Earth will transmit a powerful radio signal as New Horizons passes behind Pluto's disk, then emerges on the other side. The communications dish will measure the disappearance and reappearance of the signal. The results will resolve Pluto's diameter (by their timing) and atmospheric density and composition (by their weakening and strengthening pattern). (Alice
can perform similar occultations, using sunlight instead of radio beacons.) Previous missions had the spacecraft transmit through the atmosphere, to Earth ("downlink"). Low power and extreme distance means New Horizons will be the first such "uplink" mission. Pluto's mass and mass distribution will be evaluated by their tug on the spacecraft. As the spacecraft speeds up and slows down, the radio signal will experience a Doppler shift. The Doppler shift will be measured by comparison with the ultrastable oscillator in the communications electronics.
Reflected sunlight from Charon will allow some imaging observations of the nightside. Backlighting by the Sun will highlight any rings or atmospheric hazes. REX will perform radiometry of the nightside.
After passing by Pluto, New Horizons will continue further into the Kuiper belt. Mission planners are now searching for one or more additional Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) on the order of 50–100 km (31–62 mi) in diameter for flybys similar to the spacecraft's Plutonian encounter. As maneuvering capability is limited, this phase of the mission is contingent on finding suitable KBOs close to New Horizons's flight path, ruling out any possibility for a planned flyby of Eris, a trans-Neptunian object comparable in size to Pluto. The available region, being fairly close to the plane of the Milky Way and thus difficult to survey for dim objects, is one that has not been well-covered by previous KBO search efforts