Quick Facts: New Horizons Student Dust Counter (SDC)

Mission Introduction

New Horizons at Pluto

An artist’s conception of the New Horizons spacecraft, shown as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in July 2015. (Courtesy JHUAPL/SwRI)

The New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt Mission launched in January 2006 and completed its flyby of the Pluto system in mid-July 2015. Data coming back from New Horizons will help us to understand the icy worlds at the edge of our solar system. The mission is now slated to visit a Kuiper Belt Object (2014 MU69), called “Ultima Thule,” on January 1, 2019 (UTC).

New Horizons made a close flyby of Jupiter in Feb. 2007 in order to get a gravitational boost enroute to Pluto, shortening its cruise time by about 3 years. The instruments were exercised successfully and returned exciting Jupiter science to earth, including images of a 200 mile high plume from the active Tvashtar volcano.

LASP Roles

LASP provided:

  • The Student Dust Counter (SDC)
  • SDC Principal Investigator, Mihály Horányi

LASP Instrument

Student Dust Counter

The SDC is not only the first science instrument designed and built by students to ever be sent on a planetary space mission, but also holds the ever-increasing record for the most distant working dust detector. (Courtesy JHUAPL/SwRI)

The Student Dust Counter is the first student-built instrument ever to fly on a NASA planetary mission. It has taken the first measurements of dust distribution beyond 18 AU. With guidance from LASP professionals, the SDC team of graduate and undergraduate students designed, built, and tested the instrument, and students will continue to run the SDC for at least another decade, performing operations and data analysis as their instrument journeys toward the edge of the solar system.

For more information about the New Horizons SDC instrument, see:

Quick Facts

Launch date: January 19, 2006
Launch vehicle: Atlas V 551/Centaur/STAR 48B
Launch location: Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida
Mission target: Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
Mission duration: 10 years to Pluto, 5 years at Kuiper Belt
Other key dates:

  • Closest Pluto approach: July 14, 2015
  • Closest 2014 MU69 (Ultima Thule) approach: January 1, 2019

Other organizations involved:

  • Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL)
  • Southwest Research Institute (SwRI)


SDCClick on the image to view a PDF (591 KB) of New Horizons-SDC FAQs.
New Horizons 1/25 scale Paper Model (6.3 Mbytes)
Model Instructions (334 kbytes)