UCF physics professor Dan Britt has been named to the New Horizons mission team as the spacecraft heads to the Kuiper Belt, according to a release from the university. Britt has also received a grant to help create fake asteroid material, which will help NASA and private companies prepare the technology needed to mine asteroids, and eventually other planets.
“It’s been a pretty good month,” Britt said in the release. “This is a great time to be in this field.”
Britt will join the team responsible for sending New Horizons to Pluto. Mountain ranges and perhaps even oceans under its frozen surface have been recorded by the spacecraft, according to the press release.
The spacecraft, which is unmanned, launched in 2006 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It reached Pluto in July, and exceeded expectations. Now, NASA is looking to extend the mission and send the probe to the Kuiper Belt.
The Kuiper Belt is a disk-shaped region of the solar system past Neptune’s orbit, and is home to comets, asteroids and other objects made of ice. The probe will make some adjustments in October to get into position to view two ideal targets, according to the release. Once NASA selects the targets this summer, the spacecraft will take almost three years to arrive.
Britt will work with lead scientist Alan Stern on the geology of the Kuiper Belt objects New Horizons encounter. Stern, based at the Southwest Research Institute, has served as a consultant on several projects with UCF, as well as serving as interim director of the Florida Space Institute, based at UCF.
“This is a great opportunity,” Britt said in the release. “It demonstrates that UCF is the place to go for expertise in asteroid and comet geology.”
Britt will lead the development of different kinds of asteroid stimulants. Asteroids are seen as a key resource to traveling beyond the moon as they could provide fueling stations for longer space voyages, according to the press release.
“This gives NASA engineers something that is close to asteroidal mineralogy to work on. People who develop asteroid mining will be testing their hardware on UCF [stimulant], and that’s pretty awesome,” Britt said.
Rosie Reitze is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @rosie_ucf or email her at RosieR@centralfloridafuture.com.