Space probe

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A planned 1974 probe, Pioneer H, on display in a museum.
Some twenty space probes are operational as of September 2014.

A space probe is an unmanned spacecraft that leaves Earth orbit and explores space.[1] It may approach the Moon; enter interplanetary space; fly by, orbit or land on other planetary bodies; or approach interstellar space. Space probes are a form of robotic spacecraft.

See list of probes by operational status for a list of active probes; the space agencies of the USSR (now Russia and Ukraine), the United States, the European Union, Japan, China and India have in the aggregate launched probes to several planets and moons of the solar system as well as to a number of asteroids and comets. More than twenty missions are currently extant.[2]

Interplanetary trajectories[edit]

Once a probe has left the vicinity of Earth, its trajectory will likely take it along an orbit around the Sun similar to the Earth's orbit. To reach another planet, the simplest practical method is a Hohmann transfer orbit. More complex techniques, such as gravitational slingshots, can be more fuel-efficient, though they may require the probe to spend more time in transit. Some high Delta-V missions (such as those with high inclination changes) can only be performed, within the limits of modern propulsion, using gravitational slingshots. A technique using very little propulsion, but requiring a considerable amount of time, is to follow a trajectory on the Interplanetary Transport Network.[3]

Some notable probes[edit]


The purpose of Luna 9 was to get to the moon before any other place in the world.

Luna 16[edit]

First unmanned robotic sample return probe from the Moon.

Lunokhod 1[edit]

First rover on Moon. It was sent to the Moon on November 10, 1970.

Mariner 10[edit]

First probe to Mercury.

Venera 4[edit]

First successful in-place analysis of another planet. It may have also been the first space probe to impact the surface of another planet, although it is unclear whether it reached Venus's surface.[4]

Venera 7[edit]

The Venera 7 probe was the first man-made spacecraft to successfully soft land on another planet (Venus) and to transmit data from there back to Earth.

Mariner 9[edit]

Upon its arrival at Mars on November 13, 1971, Mariner 9 became the first space probe to maintain orbit around another planet.[5]

The Huygens landing site on Titan

Mars 3[edit]

First soft landing on Mars (between 1960 and 1973).[citation needed] Although, the spacecraft failed shortly after landing.

Sojourner[edit]

First successful rover on Mars.[6]

Spirit and Opportunity[edit]

The Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity surface and geology, and searched for clues to past water activity on Mars. They were each launched in 2003 and landed in 2004. Communication with Spirit stopped on sol 2210 (March 22, 2010).[7][8] JPL continued to attempt to regain contact until May 24, 2011, when NASA announced that efforts to communicate with the unresponsive rover had ended.[9][10][11] Opportunity arrived at Endeavour crater on 9 August 2011, at a landmark called Spirit Point named after its rover twin, after traversing 13 miles from Victoria crater, over a three-year period.[12] As of January 16, 2012, Opportunity has lasted for more than eight years on Mars — although the rovers were intended to last only three months.

Halley Armada[edit]

The first dedicated missions to a comet; in this case, to Halley's Comet during its 1985-86 journey through the inner solar system. It was also the first massive international coordination of space probes on an interplanetary mission, with probes specifically launched by the Soviet (now Russian) Space Agency, European Space Agency and Japan's ISAS (now integrated with NASDA to JAXA).

ICE[edit]

Original a solar observatory in the International Sun-Earth Explorer series, it was sent into solar orbit to make the first close observations of a comet, Comet Giacobini-Zinner, in 1985 as a prelude to studies of Halley's Comet.

Vega[edit]

Two Russian/French spacecraft. They dropped landers and balloons (first weather ballons deployed on another planet) at Venus before their rendezvous with Halley's Comet.

Sakigake[edit]

This Japanese probe was the first non-US, non-Soviet interplanetary probe.[citation needed]

Suisei[edit]

A second Japanese probe, it made ultraviolet wavelength observations of the comet.

Giotto[edit]

The first space probe to penetrate a comet's coma and take close-up images of its nucleus.

Genesis[edit]

First solar wind sample return probe from sun-earth L1.[citation needed]

Stardust[edit]

First sample return probe from a comet tail and became a rocket within it's way back.


NEAR Shoemaker[edit]

First probe to land on an asteroid.

Hayabusa[edit]

First sample return probe to launch from an asteroid.

Rosetta[edit]

The Rosetta space probe has flown by two asteroids and is aiming to rendezvous and explore comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It rendezvoused with the comet in November 2014.[13]

Pioneer 10[edit]

First probe to Jupiter. Radio communications were lost with Pioneer 10 on January 23, 2003, because of the loss of electric power for its radio transmitter, with the probe at a distance of 12 billion kilometers (80 AU) from Earth.

Pioneer 11[edit]

First probe to fly by two planets and first probe to Saturn. (Communications were lost due to power constraints and vast distance.)

Voyager 1[edit]

Voyager 1 is a 733-kilogram probe launched September 5, 1977. It is currently still operational, making it the longest-lasting mission of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It visited Jupiter and Saturn and was the first probe to provide detailed images of the moons of these planets.

Voyager 1 is the farthest human-made object from Earth, traveling away from both the Earth and the Sun at a relatively faster speed than any other probe.[14] As of September 12, 2013, Voyager 1 is about 12 billion miles from the Sun.[15]

On August 25, 2012, Voyager 1 became the first human made object to enter interstellar space.[16] Voyager 1 has not had a functioning plasma sensor since 1980, but a solar flare in 2012 allowed scientists from NASA to measure vibrations of the plasma surrounding the craft. The vibrations allowed scientists to measure the plasma to be much denser than measurements taken in the far layers of our heliosphere, thus concluding the craft had broken beyond the heliopause.

Voyager 2[edit]

Voyager 2 was the first probe to complete the Planetary Grand Tour of the gas giants, and the first probe to visit Uranus and Neptune.Voyager 2 is the second-farthest human-made object from Earth, next to Voyager 1 at a distance of 101.2 AU as of July 11, 2013.

Huygens[edit]

First landing on Titan on January 14, 2005.[when?]

New Horizons[edit]

First probe to be launched to Pluto. Launched on 19 January 2006 with an estimated arrival date at the Pluto–Charon system of 14 July 2015.

Dawn[edit]

First spacecraft to visit and orbit a protoplanet (4 Vesta), entering orbit on July 16, 2011.[17][18]

Juno[edit]

First probe to Jupiter without atomic battery,[citation needed] launched August 8, 2011.

Chang'e 2[edit]

First probe to orbit the Moon, visit Sun-Earth L2 Langrangian point and make a flyby of asteroid 4179 Toutatis.[citation needed]

Beyond the Solar System[edit]

Along with Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, and its sister space probe Voyager 2, Voyager 1 is now an interstellar probe. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have both achieved solar escape velocity, meaning that their trajectories will not return them to the solar system.[19][20]

Probe imagers[edit]

Examples of space probe imaging telescope/cameras (focused on visible spectrum).

Name Aperture
cm (in.)
Type Where When
Mars Reconnaissance OrbiterHiRISE 50 cm (19.7″) R/C Mars orbit 2005
Mars Global Surveyor—MOC[21] 35 cm (13.8″) R/C Mars orbit 1996–2006
New Horizons—LORRI[citation needed] 20.8 cm (8.2″) R/C Space (33+ AU from Earth) 2006
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LROC-NAC[22] 19.5 cm (7.68″) Reflector Lunar orbit 2009
Cassini—ISS-NAC[23] 19 cm (7.5″) Reflector Saturn orbit 2004
Galileo - Solid State Imager[24] 17.65 cm (6.95″) Reflector Jupiter 1989-2003
Voyager 1/2, ISS-NAC[25] 17.6 cm (6.92″) Catadioptric Space 1977
Mariner 10 - TV Photo Experiment (x2)[26] 15 cm (5.9″) Reflector Space 1973-1975
Deep Space 1—MICAS[27] 10 cm ( 3.94″) Reflector Solar orbit 1998-2001
Voyager 1/2, ISS-WAC[25] 6 cm (2.36″) Lens Space 1977
Cassini—ISS-WAC[23] 5.7 cm (2.2″) Lens Saturn orbit 2004
MESSENGER MDIS-WAC[28] 3 cm (1.18″) Lens Mercury orbit 2004
MESSENGER MDIS-NAC[29] 2.5 cm (0.98″) R/C Mercury orbit 2004
Dawn Framing Camera (FC1/FC2)[30] 2 cm (0.8″) Lens Asteroid belt 2007

Image forming systems on space probes typically have a multitude of specifications, but aperture can be useful because it constrains the best diffraction limit and light gathering area.[citation needed]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ National Geographic: Space probes
  2. ^ http://www.planetary.org/multimedia/space-images/charts/whats-up-in-the-solar-system-frohn.html
  3. ^ Next exit 0.5 Million Kilometers
  4. ^ http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraftDisplay.do?id=1967-058A
  5. ^ http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/past/mariner8-9.html
  6. ^ Sojourner (rover)
  7. ^ September 30 – October 05, 2010 Spirit Remains Silent at Troy NASA. 2010-10-05.
  8. ^ A.J.S. Rayl Mars Exploration Rovers Update Planetary Society 30 November 2010
  9. ^ Webster, Guy (25 May 2011). "NASA's Spirit Rover Completes Mission on Mars". NASA. Retrieved 2011-10-12. 
  10. ^ "NASA Concludes Attempts to Contact Mars Rover Spirit". NASA. Retrieved 25 May 2011. 
  11. ^ Chang, Kenneth (May 24, 2011). "NASA to Abandon Mars Spirit Rover". New York Times. 
  12. ^ NASA Mars Rover Arrives at New Site on Martian Surface Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 10 August 2011.
  13. ^ "Where Comets Emit Dust: Scientists Identify the Active Regions on the Surface of Comets" - ScienceDaily (Apr. 29, 2010)
  14. ^ "NASA Voyager 1 Encounters New Region in Deep Space". NASA. 
  15. ^ Voyager - Mission - Interstellar Mission
  16. ^ NASA Spacecraft Embarks on Historic Journey Into Interstellar Space
  17. ^ "NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Hits Snag on Trip to 2 Asteroids". Space.com. August 15, 2012. Retrieved August 27, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Dawn Gets Extra Time to Explore Vesta". NASA. April 18, 2012. Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Voyager-The Interstellar Mission: Fast Facts". Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
  20. ^ "Voyager-The Interstellar Mission". Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
  21. ^ Mars Global Surveyor
  22. ^ eoportal - LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) - LROC
  23. ^ a b Cassini Solstice Mission: ISS
  24. ^ Basics of Spaceflight (Ch. 12) - NASA/JPL
  25. ^ a b astronautix - voyager
  26. ^ NASA/NSSDC - Mariner 10 - Television Photography
  27. ^ NASA DS1
  28. ^ Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) - NASA/NSSDC
  29. ^ NASA PDS - MDIS
  30. ^ Sierks, et al. - The Dawn Framing Camera: A Telescope En Route to the Asteroid Belt - MPS/DLR/IDA

Sources[edit]

  • Deep Space: The NASA Mission Reports. edited by Robert Godwin (2005). ISBN 1-894959-15-9

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]