List of space observatories

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This list is incomplete

This list of space telescopes (astronomical space observatories) is grouped by major frequency ranges: gamma ray, x-ray, ultraviolet, visible, infrared, microwave optical and radio. Telescopes that work in multiple frequency bands are included in all of the appropriate sections. Space telescopes that collect particles, such as cosmic ray nuclei and/or electrons, as well as instruments that aim to detect gravitational waves, are also listed. Missions that look solely within our solar system, including the Earth, Sun, and other planets within our system, are mostly excluded; see List of Solar System probes for these. List may not be complete or updated.

Two values are provided for the dimensions of the initial orbit. For telescopes in Earth orbit, the min and max altitude are given in kilometers. For telescopes in solar orbit, the minimum distance (periapsis) and the maximum distance (apoapsis) between the telescope and the center of mass of the sun are given in astronomical units (AU).

Rows with a dark backdrop are terminated missions.

Gamma ray[edit]

Further information: Gamma ray astronomy

Gamma ray telescopes collect and measure individual, high energy gamma rays from astrophysical sources. These are absorbed by the atmosphere, requiring that observations are done by high-altitude balloons or space missions. Gamma rays can be generated by supernovae, neutron stars, pulsars and black holes. Gamma ray bursts, with extremely high energies, have also been detected but have yet to be identified.[1]

Name Space Agency Launch Date Terminated Location Ref(s)
3rd High Energy Astronomy Observatory (HEAO 3) NASA 20 September 1979 29 May 1981 Earth orbit (486.4–504.9 km) [2][3][3]
Astrorivelatore Gamma ad Immagini LEggero (AGILE) ISA 23 April 2007 Earth orbit (524–553 km) [4][5]
Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO) NASA 5 April 1991 4 June 2000 Earth orbit (362–457 km) [6][7][8]
Cos-B ESA 9 August 1975 25 April 1982 Earth orbit (339.6–99,876 km) [9][10][11]
Gamma USSR, CNES, RSA 1 July 1990 1992 Earth orbit (375 km) [12]
Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope NASA 11 June 2008 Earth orbit (555 km) [13]
Granat CNRS & IKI 1 December 1989 25 May 1999 Earth orbit (2,000–200,000 km) [14][15][16]
High Energy Transient Explorer 2 (HETE 2) NASA 9 October 2000 2007 ? Earth orbit (590–650 km) [17][18][19]
International Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) ESA 17 October 2002 Earth orbit (639–153,000 km) [20][21]
Low Energy Gamma Ray Imager (LEGRI) INTA 19 May 1997 2002 Earth orbit (600 km) [22][23]
Second Small Astronomy Satellite (SAS 2) NASA 15 November 1972 8 June 1973 Earth orbit (443–632 km) [24][25]
Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer NASA 20 November 2004 Earth orbit (585–604 km) [26][27]

X-ray[edit]

Further information: X-ray astronomy

X-ray telescopes measure high-energy photons called X-rays. These can not travel a long distance through the atmosphere, meaning that they can only be observed high in the atmosphere or in space. Several types of astrophysical objects emit X-rays, from galaxy clusters, through black holes in active galactic nuclei to galactic objects such as supernova remnants, stars, and binary stars containing a white dwarf (cataclysmic variable stars), neutron star or black hole (X-ray binaries). Some solar system bodies emit X-rays, the most notable being the Moon, although most of the X-ray brightness of the Moon arises from reflected solar X-rays. A combination of many unresolved X-ray sources is thought to produce the observed X-ray background.

Name Space Agency Launch Date Terminated Location Ref(s)
1st High Energy Astronomy Observatory (HEAO 1) NASA 12 August 1977 9 January 1979 Earth orbit (445 km) [28][29][30]
3rd High Energy Astronomy Observatory (HEAO 3) NASA 20 September 1979 29 May 1981 Earth orbit (486.4–504.9 km) [2][3][3]
A Broadband Imaging X-ray All-sky Survey (ABRIXAS) DLR 28 April 1999 1 July 1999 Earth orbit (549–598 km) [31][32][33]
Advanced Satellite for Cosmology and Astrophysics (ASCA) ISAS & NASA 20 February 1993 2 March 2001 Earth orbit (523.6–615.3 km) [34][35]
AGILE ISA 23 April 2007 Earth orbit (524–553 km) [4][5]
Ariel V SRC & NASA 15 October 1974 14 March 1980 Earth orbit (520 km) [36][37]
Array of Low Energy X-ray Imaging Sensors (Alexis) LANL 25 April 1993 2005 Earth orbit (749–844 km) [38][39][40]
Aryabhata ISRO 19 April 1975 23 April 1975 Earth orbit (563–619 km) [41]
Astron IKI 23 March 1983 June 1989 Earth orbit (2,000—200,000 km) [42][43][44]
Astronomical Netherlands Satellite (ANS) SRON 30 August 1974 June 1976 Earth orbit (266–1176 km) [45][46]
BeppoSAX ASI 30 April 1996 30 April 2002 Earth orbit (575–594 km) [47][48][49]
Broad Band X-ray Telescope / Astro 1 NASA 2 December 1990 11 December 1990 Earth orbit (500 km) [50][51]
Chandra X-ray Observatory NASA 23 July 1999 Earth orbit (9,942–140,000 km) [52][53]
Cos-B ESA 9 August 1975 25 April 1982 Earth orbit (339.6–99,876 km) [9][10][11]
Cosmic Radiation Satellite (CORSA) ISAS 6 February 1976 6 February 1976 Failed launch [54][55]
Einstein Observatory (HEAO 2) NASA 13 November 1978 26 April 1981 Earth orbit (465–476 km) [56][57]
EXOSAT ESA 26 May 1983 8 April 1986 Earth orbit (347–191,709 km) [58][59][60]
Ginga (Astro-C) ISAS 5 February 1987 1 November 1991 Earth orbit (517–708 km) [61][62][63]
Granat CNRS & IKI 1 December 1989 25 May 1999 Earth orbit (2,000–200,000 km) [14][15][16]
Hakucho ISAS 21 February 1979 16 April 1985 Earth orbit (421–433 km) [64][65][66]
High Energy Transient Explorer 2 (HETE 2) NASA 9 October 2000 Earth orbit (590–650 km) [17][18][19]
International Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) ESA 17 October 2002 Earth orbit (639–153,000 km) [20][21]
Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) NASA 13 June 2012 Earth orbit (603.5 km) [67][68]
ROSAT NASA & DLR 1 June 1990 12 February 1999 Re-entry 23 October 2011.[69]
Formerly Earth orbit (580 km)
[70][71][72]
Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) NASA 30 December 1995 3 January 2012[73] Earth orbit (409 km) [74][75]
Suzaku (ASTRO-E2) JAXA & NASA 10 July 2005 Earth orbit (550 km) [76][77]
Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer NASA 20 November 2004 Earth orbit (585–604 km) [26][27]
Tenma ISAS 20 February 1983 19 January 1989 Earth orbit (489–503 km) [78][79][80]
Third Small Astronomy Satellite (SAS-C) NASA 7 May 1975 April 1979 Earth orbit (509–516 km) [81][82][83]
Uhuru NASA 12 December 1970 March 1973 Earth orbit (531–572 km) [84][85][86]
XMM-Newton ESA 10 December 1999 Earth orbit (7,365–114,000 km) [87][88]

Ultraviolet[edit]

Further information: Ultraviolet astronomy

Ultraviolet telescopes make observations at ultraviolet wavelengths, i.e. between approximately 10 and 320 nm. Light at these wavelengths is absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, so observations at these wavelengths must be performed from the upper atmosphere or from space.[89] Objects emitting ultraviolet radiation include the Sun, other stars and galaxies.[90]

Name Space Agency Launch Date Terminated Observing Location Ref(s)
Astro 2 NASA 2 March 1993 18 March 1993 Earth orbit (349–363 km) [91][92]
Astron IKI 23 March 1983 June 1989 Earth orbit (2,000–200,000 km) [42][43][44]
Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph (UVC) NASA 16 April 1972 23 April 1972 Descartes Highlands on Lunar surface [93]
Astronomical Netherlands Satellite (ANS) SRON 30 August 1974 June 1976 Earth orbit (266–1176 km) [45][46]
Broad Band X-ray Telescope / Astro 1 NASA 2 December 1990 11 December 1990 Earth orbit (500 km) [50][51]
Cosmic Hot Interstellar Spectrometer (CHIPS) NASA 13 January 2003 11 April 2008 Earth orbit (578–594 km) [94][95]
Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer (EUVE) NASA 7 June 1992 31 January 2001 Earth orbit (515–527 km) [96][97]
Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) NASA & CNES & CSA 24 June 1999 12 July 2007 Earth orbit (752–767 km) [98][99]
Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX) NASA 28 April 2003 28 June 2013 Earth orbit (691–697 km) .[100][101][102]
Hisaki (SPRINT-A) JAXA 14 September 2013 [103]
Hubble Space Telescope NASA & ESA 24 April 1990 Earth orbit (586.47–610.44 km) [104]
Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) NASA 27 June 2013 Earth orbit [105][106]
International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) ESA & NASA & SERC 26 January 1978 30 September 1996 Earth orbit (32,050–52,254 km) [107][108]
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology Satellite 4 (Kaistsat 4) KARI 27 September 2003 2007 ? Earth orbit (675–695 km) [109][110]
OAO-2 (Stargazer) NASA 7 December 1968 January 1973 Earth orbit (749–758 km) [111][112]
OAO-3 Copernicus NASA 21 August 1972 February 1981 Earth orbit (713–724 km) [111]
Orion 1 and Orion 2 Space Observatories USSR 19 April 1971 (Orion 1) ; (Orion 2) December 18, 1973 1971; 1973 Earth orbit (Orion 1: 200–222 km; Orion 2: 188–247 km) [113][114]
Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer (Swift) NASA 20 November 2004 Earth orbit (585–604 km) [26][27]
Venus Spectral Rocket Experiment NASA 26 November 2013 reusable suborbital to 300 km [115]

UV ranges listed at Ultraviolet_astronomy#Ultraviolet_space_telescopes.

Visible[edit]

Further information: Visible-light astronomy

The oldest form of astronomy, optical or visible-light astronomy extends from approximately 400 to 700 nm.[116] Positioning an optical telescope in space means that the telescope does not see any atmospheric effects (see astronomical seeing), providing higher resolution images. Optical telescopes are used to look at stars, galaxies, planetary nebulae and protoplanetary disks, amongst many other things.[117]

Name Space Agency Launch Date Terminated Location Ref(s)
COROT CNES & ESA 27 December 2006 2013 Earth orbit (872–884 km) [118][119]
Hipparcos ESA 8 August 1989 March 1993 Earth orbit (223–35,632 km) [120][121][122]
Hubble Space Telescope ESA&NASA 24 April 1990 Earth orbit (586.47–610.44 km) [104]
Kepler Mission NASA 6 March 2009 Earth-trailing heliocentric orbit [123][124][125]
MOST CSA 30 June 2003 Earth orbit (819–832 km) [126][127]
Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer NASA 20 November 2004 Earth orbit (585–604 km) [26][27]
Gaia mission (astrometry) ESA 19 December 2013 Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point [128]

Infrared and Submillimetre[edit]

Infrared light is of lower energy than visible light, hence is emitted by cooler objects. As such, the following can be viewed in the infrared: cool stars (including brown dwarves), nebulae, and redshifted galaxies.[129]

Name Space Agency Launch Date Terminated Location Ref(s)
AKARI JAXA 21 February 2006 24 November 2011[130] Earth orbit (586.47–610.44 km) [131][132]
Herschel Space Observatory ESA & NASA 14 May 2009 [133] 29 April 2013[134] Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point [135][136][137]
IRAS NASA 25 January 1983 21 November 1983 Earth orbit (889–903 km) [138][139]
Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) ESA 17 November 1995 16 May 1998 Earth orbit (1000–70500 km) [140][140][141]
Infrared Telescope in Space ISAS & NASDA 18 March 1995 25 April 1995 Earth orbit (486 km) [142][143]
Midcourse Space Experiment (MSX) USN 24 April 1996 26 February 1997 Earth orbit (900 km) [144]
Spitzer Space Telescope NASA 25 August 2003 Solar orbit (0.98–1.02 AU) [145][146]
Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS) NASA 6 December 1998 Last used in 2005 Earth orbit (638–651 km) [147][148]
Wide Field Infrared Explorer (WIRE) NASA 5 March 1999 no observations Re-entered May 10, 2011[149] [150]
Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) NASA 14 December 2009 (hibernation Feb 2011-Aug 2013) Earth orbit (500 km) [151][152][153]

Microwave[edit]

Orbital Vsat

Further information: Radio astronomy

At microwave frequencies, photons are plentiful, but they have very low energy so lots of them need to be collected. At these frequencies, the Cosmic Microwave Background can be measured, as well as point sources and the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect, as well as synchrotron radiation and Bremsstrahlung from our own galaxy.

Name Space Agency Launch Date Terminated Location Ref(s)
Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) NASA 18 November 1989 23 December 1993 Earth orbit (900 km) [154][155]
Odin Swedish Space Corporation 20 February 2001 Earth orbit (622 km) [156][157]
Planck ESA 14 May 2009 October 2013 Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point(mission)
Heliocentric (Derelict)
[136][158][159]
WMAP NASA 30 June 2001 October 2010 Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point [160]

Radio[edit]

As the atmosphere is transparent for radio waves, radio telescopes in space are of most use for Very Long Baseline Interferometry; doing simultaneous observations of a source with both a satellite and a ground-based telescope and by correlating their signals to simulate a radio telescope the size of the separation between the two telescopes. Observations can be of supernova remnants, masers, gravitational lenses, starburst galaxies, and many other things.

Name Space Agency Launch Date Terminated Location Ref(s)
Highly Advanced Laboratory for Communications and Astronomy (HALCA, or VSOP) ISAS 12 February 1997 30 November 2005 Earth orbit (560–21,400 km) [161][162][163]
RadioAstron ASC LPI May 2011 Earth orbit (10,000–390,000 km) [164][165][166]

Particle detection[edit]

Spacecraft and space-based modules that do particle detection, looking for cosmic rays and electrons. These can be emitted by the sun (Solar Energetic Particles), our galaxy (Galactic cosmic rays) and extragalactic sources (Extragalactic cosmic rays). There are also Ultra-high-energy cosmic rays from active galactic nuclei.

Name Space Agency Launch Date Terminated Location Ref(s)
3rd High Energy Astrophysics Observatory (HEAO 3) NASA 20 September 1979 29 May 1981 Earth orbit (486.4–504.9 km) [2][3][3]
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 01 (AMS-01) NASA 2 June 1998 12 June 1998 Earth orbit (296 km) [167]
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 02 (AMS-02) NASA 16 May 2011 Earth orbit (353 km) [168]
IBEX NASA 19 October 2008 Earth orbit [169]
Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics (PAMELA) ISA, INFN, RSA, DLR & SNSB 15 May 2006 Earth orbit (350–610 km) [170][171]
SAMPEX NASA / DE 3 July 1992 30 June 2004 Earth orbit [172]

Gravitational waves[edit]

A proposed new type of telescope is one that detects gravitational waves; ripples in space-time generated by colliding neutron stars and black holes.

To be launched[edit]

Not in space yet:

Name Space Agency Launch Date Terminated Location Ref(s)
Astrosat ISRO 2015 Earth orbit (650 km) [173][174]
LISA Pathfinder NASA/ESA 2015 L1 orbit [175]
James Webb Space Telescope NASA/ESA/CSA TBA On Earth. Planned for Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point [176]
Tel Aviv University Ultraviolet Explorer (TAUVEX) Israeli Space Agency TBA [177]
Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT) CNSA 2014-2016 [178]
DArk Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE ) CNSA 2015-2016 [179]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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