Ralph is late for NASA's New Horizons Mission to Pluto


One of the instruments slated to fly aboard the New Horizons mission to Pluto is late and threatens to affect the entire mission.

Ball Aerospace is responsible for delivering the main New Horizons imaging package, which has been named "Ralph." The name of this instrument comes from the half century old TV series "The Honeymooners".

The spacecraft also has an instrument called "Alice" being built by Southwest Research Institute. Alice and most other New Horizons instruments are already at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

Ralph is now a number of months late and has significant cost problems. Last week, in an attempt to solve these problems, New Horizons Project management decided to take instrument development away from Ball Aerospace.

Despite this contract directive, Ball Aerospace is now reportedly refusing to comply with management direction. With an already tight schedule, threats resulting from Ralph's delays are now emerging against the planned 2006 launch date of New Horizons.

The worst case scenario would be a four year delay in the arrival of New Horizons at Pluto. This could result in a $100 million cost penalty - a cost five times what Ralph cost to develop in the first place.

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