Volga-Dnepr Airlines has played an important role in the successful launch of NASA’s $700m ‘New Horizons’ mission to Pluto, the one remaining planet that has never been visited by a spacecraft.
The airline conducted two AN-124-100 freighter flights from Denver to the launch pad at in Florida carrying the Atlas 5 rocket launcher for the project. The two sections transported on board the aircraft were then assembled at Cape Canaveral.
A timely delivery and subsequent launch was a critical element of the whole project. The spacecraft had a set window for the launch in order for the ‘New Horizons’ probe to use Jupiter’s gravity to pick up speed in a ‘slingshot manoeuvre’.
By successfully meeting this deadline, the probe’s speed away from the sun will be increased by nearly 9,000mph, allowing the spacecraft to reach the ninth planet by July 2015. If the launch window had been missed, the probe would have needed to take a direct route to Pluto, delaying its arrival until 2018 at the earliest.
The ‘New Horizons’ mission aims to gather information on Pluto and its moons. It is hoped that the probe will also explore other objects in the outer solar system.
Dennis Gliznoutsa, group commercial director of Volga-Dnepr, said: “We have been called upon to support many space missions in the past but this is an especially exciting project to be part of. Although ‘New Horizons’ is a relatively small probe, this was the largest Atlas V launch to date, in order to achieve the required high velocity departure from earth at the start of its 10-year, three billion mile journey. We will be watching the progress of the mission with special interest.”