11.26 - Understand the advantages and disadvantages of the major types of space probe:
a) fly-by

11.27 - Know an example of each type of space probe, including target body and major discoveries, including:
a) fly-by – New Horizons (Outer Solar System)

Sending a probe past objects can not only tell us what the body looks like but can take measurements of temperature, light, gravity, mass, magnetic field, atmosphere, composition and more. This information is sent back to Earth. It is spelt both as fly-by and flyby.

  • An array of sensors can measure many features of the relevant bodies and send images of distant bodies in detail never seen before.
  • Flybys happen at incredible speeds and not all parts of the observed bodies can be monitored.
  • Once is flybys it does not return to its target
  • More detailed analysis of object features cannot be gathered
New Horizons

New Horizons was launched in 2006 and arrived at Pluto in 2015. As it sped past at 58,000km an hour it mapped the surface of Pluto and Charon, took measurements of Pluto's atmosphere. Took numerous images of Pluto's satellites, measured temperatures and the effects of the solar wind at that distance.

Another advantage of fly-bys are that the probe can then move on to another object to study. New Horizons also performed a fly-by of Kuiper belt object 'Ultima Thule' in 2019. Voyager 2 managed to study Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Some limitations are that it obviously does not typically have the ability to land and undertake experiments on the planet or moon. Also once a probe is launched there may be few opportunities to change orbit and no chance to update the technology on the probe itself.

Fly-by for speed increase

Spacecraft can gain speed by using the gravity of Planets and Satellites to propel themselves, change their trajectory (direction) and increase speed.

New Horizons performed a fly-by of Jupiter on its way to Pluto. While it was an opportunity to test its systems and to take measurements and to send back images, it was primarily used to speed up the spacecraft. The Galileo spacecraft orbited Earth and Venus several times to gain enough speed to get to Jupiter. This is known as the slingshot or gravitational assist.