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Seven co-investigators join New Horizons team

Artist's impression of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Pluto-like object in the distant Kuiper Belt.

Artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Pluto-like object in the distant Kuiper Belt. Image Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SwRI / Steve Gribben

In anticipation of New Horizons’ flyby of its second target – Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69 – on January 1, 2019, NASA and Principal Investigator Alan Stern have added seven new co-investigators to the mission team. Daniel Britt, J.J. Kavelaars, Alex Parker, Simon Porter, Silvia Protopapa, Kelsi Singer, and Amanda Zangari are now on board for the probe’s expanded mission.

Daniel Britt

New Horizons' Year of KBO Encounter 2019

New Horizons is on its way to a new flyby target – KBO 2014 MU69 – on New Year’s Day 2019, where it will study an ancient building block of dwarf planets like Pluto. Image Credit: Roman Tkachenko

A planetary scientist with a doctorate from Brown University, he served as a U.S. Air Force ICBM launch officer, an economist for Boeing, and project manager for NASA’s Mars Pathfinder camera. He chaired the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences and the Geological Society of America’s Planetary Geology Division. He also built hardware for every one of NASA’s Mars landers. His focus will be on MU69’s geology and surface properties.

J.J. Kavelaars

A Canadian scholar who studied extra-galactic astronomy and earned a doctorate from Queens University in Ontario, he is a senior research officer at the National Research Council’s Canadian Astronomy Data Centre in Victoria, British Columbia. He discovered more than 1,000 KBOs and more than 20 small moons in the outer Solar System. His experience also includes work as a principal investigator of the Canada-France Ecliptic Plane Survey and Outer Solar System Origin Survey. For New Horizons, he will work on ground-based observations of MU69 during the flyby and provide a larger perspective on all KBOs the probe observes.

Alex Parker

A research scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, Parker has a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Victoria in British Columbia. He took part in the search for a New Horizons target beyond Pluto and was part of the team that successfully found MU69 in 2014 with the Hubble Space Telescope. His specialty is binary systems and the origin of the Kuiper Belt, which he will continue to study during the extended mission.

Simon Porter

Porter is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Southwest Research Institute. Formerly a pre-doctoral fellow at the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered in 1930, he obtained his doctorate in astrophysics from Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. A specialist in outer Solar System orbital mechanics, he studied the shapes and rotations of Pluto’s small moons and will concentrate on observations of distant KBOs as well as on refining New Horizons’ trajectory based on the precise determination of MU69’s orbit.

Silvia Protopapa

Protopapa, who has a doctorate from the Technical University of Braunschweig and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, studies the composition of small bodies in the outer Solar System. Currently an assistant research scientist at the University of Maryland, she will analyze data provided by New Horizons’ Ralph and LEISA instruments.

Kelsi Singer

After earning her doctorate from St. Louis’ Washington University, where she studied Jupiter and Saturn’s icy moons, Singer spent a year as a postdoctoral researcher on NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s camera team. A member of the New Horizons team at Boulder’s Southwest Research Institute since 2014, she has concentrated on geophysical modeling and geological mapping of planetary surfaces. Her studies on New Horizons’ extended mission will focus on the surface geology and cratering of MU69 as well as on flyby observations and development of software tools.

Amanda Zangari

Also a postdoctoral researcher at Southwest Research Institute, Zangari earned her doctorate in planetary science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and was also a member of the group that discovered MU69 over two years ago using the Hubble Telescope. A student of stellar occultations and Pluto surface mapping, she will work on mission planning and on science operations of the Ralph instrument.

KBO Observation Chart – 2016-12-19

This diagram covers various aspects of our plan for observing almost two-dozen KBOs as we cross the Kuiper Belt between 2016 and 2020. Image Credit: JHU-APL / SwRI / John Spencer



Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

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