Designed trajectory for New Horizons Flyby
Created trajectory for Parker Solar Probe
Asteroid 28513 named “Guo” in her honor
Image Source: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory
Have you ever planned a road trip? If so, you know planning for unknowns can be difficult. Small unplanned events – accidents, emergencies, etc. – can have a major impact on even a short route. But what if you had to plan a route over 3 billion miles, where massive objects would cross your path at colossal speeds many times over? Dr. Yangping Guo did just that.
On January 19, 2006, NASA launched the New Horizon’s spacecraft – a half-ton probe designed to traverse the solar system from Earth to Pluto with a science payload that would allow unprecedented study of the dwarf planet. But the science was only possible if New Horizons reached its destination. Yangping Guo was the mission design lead for New Horizons – the person responsible for determining exactly how to make that flight happen. To make matters more interesting, Guo had to design a trajectory that did not rely on thrusters – rocket engines that could provide course corrections or additional speed. Instead, Guo designed a trajectory that would take New Horizons to Jupiter, using the planet’s gravity to slingshot the probe toward the outer reaches of the solar system. Her work earned her the APL’s Exceptional Award in 2006 and on July 14, 2015, thanks to Guo’s incredible efforts, New Horizons reached Pluto within 72 seconds of the estimated arrival time. In honor of her New Horizons mission design Asteroid 28513 Guo was named in her honor.
But in the years between New Horizons launch and arrival at Pluto, Guo did not rest on her laurels. She published numerous papers and reports on ways to reach other bodies in the solar system. She created the trajectory for the Parker Solar Probe mission, with a unique solution of having the probe use the gravity of Venus multiple times to make close fly-bys of the sun, which is allowing it to pass the sun 24 times over the course of its mission. The Parker Probe reached the sun’s corona in 2021 coming closer than any spacecraft as part of its seven year orbit around our star.
Guo earned her PhD in physics from The Catholic University of America. She joined the Applied Physics Laboratory as a postdoctoral fellow where she is a Space Mission Designer and has been the design lead for a number of NASA proposals and flight projects.
Written by Nicole Hutchison