New Horizons probe has found astonishing features on Pluto, while the likelihood of making even greater discoveries is remote in further space. Is it possible for New Horizons probe to turn back and start orbiting Pluto? It may save much time and resources as compared to sending another probe to Pluto. Thanks for your responses.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is a question better suited to "space exploration" than "astronomy". $\endgroup$
    – James K
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 21:08

2 Answers 2


A Pluto orbiter would have been possible, but then the entire mission would have to be designed around that.

New Horizons was designed as a small fast probe that could reach Pluto relatively quickly (almost 10 years), but not be able to stop there.

An orbiter would have to take a lot more fuel with it, and approach Pluto slower. Such a mission would therefore take a lot longer to reach Pluto. A hohmann transfer to Pluto would take 45 years¹. It would have been more expensive since more fuel means heavier means an even larger launch vehicle and the Atlas V is already one of the most powerful launch vehicles available.

The Atlas V rocket used to launch the New Horizons spacecraft.


The Atlas V rocket used to launch the New Horizons spacecraft.

About the curious color, see answer(s) to Was New Horizons launched on a copper rocket?

1: According to Google, which cites https://doi.org/10.1007/1-4020-4520-4_174. You could get there faster if you were willing to spend more fuel, but for such missions if there is extra fuel budget that is usually spent on more science payload rather than speeding up the mission. Although a future nuclear powered ion engine probe would change this equation.


No, unfortunately this is not possible. To get back to Pluto, it has to reduce its speed. Even more then it is currently flying (because it has passed Pluto already). Because New Horizon is flying at a speed of approximately 13,8 km/s, it has to use massive amounts of fuel/energy to get a full stop and fly back. Let alone having enough fuel to maneuver into a stable orbit.


  • $\begingroup$ You could add what the escape speed of Pluto is from the smallest possible orbit. $\endgroup$
    – ProfRob
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 11:31
  • $\begingroup$ The probe does not really has to stop and reverse. It has to sway to the side in the direction of orbiting Pluto to reach it. But obviously it depends on how much fuel is there. $\endgroup$
    – rnso
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ No, not really. Pluto is almost right behind New Horizon. Let's say Pluto only moves a small part of its orbit during the new approach of New Horizon. This is still nearly behind the current position of New Horizon. The velocity can be seperated in a x,y,and z direction, totalling to the current velocity vector. If New Horizon has to travel back (with or without a sway) the velocity in direction to the sun (let's say vector x) has still be completely turned from 13,8 km/s to minus-something km/s. The only difference now is an small velocity in for instance the y-direction. Totalling in a sway. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 12:29

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