With the recent success of the New Horizons mission to the Pluto system, NASA scientists now plan to send the spacecraft on another survey mission to a distant object around one billion miles away from Pluto.

Experts at the space agency identified a small Kuiper Belt object (KBO), dubbed 2014 MU69, as the next potential destination for the New Horizons probe once it finishes its mission in the Pluto system. It was one of two prospective KBO targets by NASA and the one recommended to the space agency by members of the New Horizons team.

As part of the standard review procedure, NASA will first conduct a detailed assessment before it can officially approve the extension to the New Horizon's current mission.

NASA Science Mission Directorate chief John Grunsfeld said that even as the spacecraft for the New Horizons mission begin to speed away from the Pluto system and into the distant Kuiper Belt, NASA scientists are already looking outward to the explorer's next destination.

Grunsfeld said that while discussions will still be made regarding the approval of the New Horizon's extended mission, they expect it to be less expensive compared to its primary mission yet still provide them with new and highly useful scientific information.

Similar to other NASA missions that were extended after finishing their primary objective, the New Horizons team are required to submit a proposal to NASA to fund the mission to the KBO. The proposal, which is due in 2016, will then be assessed by a team of experts before the space agency can decide whether to greenlight the mission extension.

The early selection of the mission's target was vital to allow the New Horizons team to direct the spacecraft toward the Kuiper Belt object while it still has enough fuel. The spacecraft is expected to carry out a series of maneuvers in October and November in order to set a course toward the KBO.

The New Horizon's spacecraft is expected to reach 2014 MU69, which experts have nicknamed Potential Target 1 (PT1), on January 2019. Any delays to its projected arrival date would cost valuable fuel and could place the mission at risk.

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