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Active Interplanetary Missions

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  • Active Interplanetary Missions

    Inspired by the UFO thread, i thought we could keep up a list of currently active missions that go beyond lunar orbit and are in active contact with Earth. The below are only space missions, not things rolling around on surfaces.

    Outer Solar System: Jupiter and Beyond

    - NASA/ESA
    - scientific observation of the Saturn system
    - orbiting Saturn since 2004, with regular flybys of Titan and Enceladus
    - successfully dropped Huygens lander on Titan
    - mass: 5250 kg wet (without lander)
    - planned operations until mid 2017

    - ESA
    - comet chaser, will orbit comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko
    - in pursuit of comet; will soon enter braking phase to "jump" into orbit in August '14
    - carries Philae lander for dropping on comet surface in November '14
    - mass: 2900 kg wet (without lander)
    - planned operations until end of 2015

    New Horizons
    - NASA
    - Pluto/Charon flyby in July 2015; possible later KBO flyby
    - hibernating on path to Pluto after Jupiter flyby in 2007; about 4.3 AU from Pluto
    - mass: 480 kg wet

    Inner Solar System : Below Jupiter

    - NASA
    - exploration of main asteroid belt; planned orbital insertion around Ceres in February '15, previously orbited Vesta
    - currently on spiraling path within asteroid belt from Vesta to Ceres
    - mass: 1240 kg wet

    Mars Express
    - ESA
    - long-term orbital observation and mapping of Mars' atmosphere and surface
    - orbiting Mars since 2004
    - unsuccessfully attempted to drop Beagle 2 lander
    - mass: 1220 kg wet (without lander)
    - planned operations until end of 2015

    Mars Odyssey
    - NASA
    - Mars orbiter; surface mapping and communications array (for surface missions)
    - in Mars orbit since 2001
    - mass: 380 kg wet

    - NASA
    - Mars orbiter; atmosphere observation
    - enroute to Mars since November '13
    - mass: 2450 kg wet
    - planned operations until end of 2015

    Mars Orbiter Mission
    - India
    - mission: getting something to Mars; mars orbiter
    - enroute to Mars since November '13
    - mass: 1340 kg wet
    - planned operations 6-10 months in Mars orbit

    STEREO 1
    - NASA
    - solar observation
    - heliocentric orbit, currently somewhere between SEL4 and Earth
    - mass: 620 kg wet

    STEREO 2
    - NASA
    - solar observation
    - heliocentric orbit, currently somewhere between SEL5 and SEL3
    - mass: 620 kg wet

    Chang'e 2
    - China
    - deep-space tracking and control target after scientific missions concluded in 2012
    - outbound from SEL2 at ca 0.65 AU from earth
    - mass: 2480 kg

    Inner Solar System : In the Neighborhood

    - NASA / ESA
    - space observatory
    - orbiting SEL1 since 1995
    - mass: 1850 kg wet
    - planned operations until end of 2016

    - NASA
    - solar wind observation
    - orbiting SEL1 since 2004
    - mass: 1300 kg wet

    Advanced Composition Explorer
    - NASA
    - cosmic ray observation
    - orbiting SEL1 since 2004
    - mass: 600 kg wet

    - ESA
    - space observatory
    - orbiting SEL2 since January 2014
    - mass: 2030 kg

    Inner Solar System : Below Earth

    Venus Express
    - ESA
    - long-term orbital observation of Venus' atmosphere
    - orbiting Venus since 2006
    - mass: 1270 kg wet (note: design directly derived from Mars Express)
    - planned operations until end of 2014

    - Japan
    - meteorologic orbital observation of Venus
    - failed to enter Venus orbit in 2010, will reattempt in 2015 on next close pass
    - in heliocentric orbit near Venus
    - mass: 520 kg wet

    - NASA
    - orbital exploration of Mercury; achieved 100% mapping and water discovery
    - second probe to ever explore the planet
    - in Mercury orbit since 2011
    - mass: 480 kg wet

    If i've missed any (already launched and still in active contact!) add 'em.
    Last edited by kato; 23 Jan 14,, 07:03.

  • #2


    • #3
      Herschel was shut off and moved to a parking orbit in June 2013. Herschel was orbiting SEL2 previously. Gaia is pretty much its replacement as a SEL2-based space observatory, although with a somewhat different mission.

      The water discovery for Ceres is based on evaluation of data recorded in four separate observations between November 2011 and March 2013.
      Last edited by kato; 23 Jan 14,, 15:18.


      • #4
        Missions to launch in the next two years, with the same constraint of "beyond the Moon":

        BepiColombo MPO
        - ESA
        - surface evaluation of Mercury
        - Mercury orbiter
        - launch in August 2015 (together with MMO)

        BepiColombo MMO
        - Japan
        - magnetospheric evaluation of Mercury
        - Mercury orbiter
        - launch in August 2015 (together with MPO)

        LISA Pathfinder
        - ESA ; previously NASA project
        - gravitational wave detector demonstrator (for LISA project)
        - SEL1 orbiter
        - launch in July 2015

        - NASA
        - space climate observation (e.g. for solar storms)
        - SEL1 orbiter
        - launch in "early 2015"


        • #5

          I believe at least one of the Voyagers is still in contact. Both I think actually.


          • #6
            Since 1989, after the Voyager 2 Neptune flyby, both Voyagers are officially on an interstellar mission, not interplanetary. Voyager 1 cleared the heliopause and entered interstellar space in August 2012 according to NASA. Voyager 2 should exit the solar system around end of 2015.


            • #7
              Roundup: ESA's "Cosmic Vision" programme

              L missions have a budget of up to 900 million Euro.
              M missions have a budget of up to 300 million Euro.
              S missions have a budget of up to 50 million Euro.

              JUICE - Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer
              • L1 (large) / flagship mission
              • description: exploring potentially habitable moons around gas giants
              • mission: for Jupiter - observation of polar regions and atmosphere; for Ganymede and partially Callisto - mapping of surface, characterisation of ocean layers, study of ice crust, characterisation of interior, study of exosphere and magnetic field ; for Europa - investigating surface features and non-ice surface material, radar sounding of surface and subsurface, in particular thin parts of the ice crust; additionally - remote observation of Io and other small moons
              • tie-in: also providing a model for possibly habitable moon systems around gas giants in habitable zones around other stars
              • operation: Jupiter orbit, flybys of Callisto and Europa while raising inclination, insertion into orbit around Ganymede
              • spacecraft: ca 4.5-ton large deep space probe
              • launch date: 2022
              • mission lifetime: 11 years (2.5 years in Jupiter orbit, 8 months in Ganymede orbit)

              ATHENA - Advanced Telescope for High Energy Astrophysics
              note: mission concept under development.
              • L2 (large) / flagship mission
              • description: x-ray observatory studying "the hot and energetic universe"
              • mission: examine galaxy and supermassive black hole / galaxy core formation and evolution
              • tie-in: heavy improvement over current ground-based systems
              • operation: SEL2 orbit
              • spacecraft: very large space bus (up to ~20m length extended)
              • launch date: 2028
              • mission lifetime: 5-10 years

              eLISA/NGO - Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna
              note: mission concept under development.
              • L3 (large) / flagship mission
              • description: gravitational wave oservatory studying the Gravitational Universe
              • mission: discover gravitational waves in spacetime, examine a potential ripple in spacetime
              • tie-in: proof-of-concept by previous "LPF" mission (extremely downscaled version), to be launched in 2015
              • operation: heliocentric orbit 20 degrees behind earth and heavily inclined to the ecliptic, ca 50 million km from Earth
              • spacecraft: triangular formation flight of three spacecraft separated by ca 1 million km
              • launch date: 2034
              • mission lifetime: 6 years

              Solar Orbiter
              • M1 (medium) mission
              • description: orbital and remote sensing exploration of the Sun
              • mission: exploration of solar wind, heliospheric magnetic field etc
              • tie-in: will provide first full images of Sun's polar regions over previous missions
              • operation: elliptic solar orbit with a close flyby to 50 million km distance every 5 months; slowly increasing inclination from ecliptic to target of 30 degrees
              • spacecraft: 1.8-ton orbiter, 3.6m length.
              • launch date: 2017
              • mission lifetime: 7 years

              • M2 (medium) mission
              • description: space-based telescope mapping local universe outside the Milkyway within 10 billion lightyears
              • mission: examining cosmic structures (galaxies) to discover variations in acceleration of post-big-bang expansion in order to investigate nature and properties of dark matter
              • tie-in: resulting low-redshift map complements previous high-redshift map created by previous ESA mission "Planck"
              • operation: large-amplitude halo orbit around SEL2, up to 2.5 million km from Earth surface
              • spacecraft: 2.1-ton orbiter, 4.5m length; high-capacity transmitter system (transmits equivalent of ca 300 GB uncompressed data in each daily 4-hour transmission window)
              • launch date: 2020
              • mission lifetime: 6 years

              • M3 (medium) mission
              • description: space-based telescope monitoring exoplanet transits
              • mission: searching for exoplanets around nearby stars stars; detecting Earth-like planets and Super-Earths in habitable zones
              • tie-in: improvement over ground-based searches
              • operation: orbiting SEL2
              • spacecraft: medium spacecraft bus operating 34 (!) wide-field telescopes on targets in parallel
              • launch date: 2024
              • mission lifetime: 6 years

              CHEOPS - Characterising Exoplanets Satellite
              • S (small) mission
              • description: space-based telescope monitoring exoplanet transits
              • mission: determining exact radius of known exoplanets around other stars, as well as density for exoplanets with known mass
              • tie-in: will provide exact measurements for exoplanets with 1-6 Earth radii previously discovered in ground-based searches
              • operation: low earth orbit, 800 km altitude sun-synchronous
              • spacecraft: small satellite bus, ca 200 kg
              • launch date: 2017
              • mission lifetime: 3.5 years
              Last edited by kato; 01 Apr 14,, 00:23.


              • #8
                Oddly, i missed this one in the original post:

                Outer Solar System: Jupiter and Beyond

                - NASA
                - scientific observation of the Jupiter system
                - enroute to Jupiter system since 2011, planned to enter highly elliptic polar orbit of Jupiter in 2016
                - will map and analyse Jupiter's atmosphere as well as its gravity and magnetic fields
                - mass: 3620 kg wet (note: light armor for radiation shielding)
                - planned operations for one year and 33 orbits

                Additionally, one planned mission for "below Jupiter":

                - NASA
                - asteroid sample return mission
                - planned approach to asteroid 101955 Bennu, followed by two years orbiting for mapping purposes.
                - will not land (or carry a lander), but instead closely approach asteroid and retrieve a sample with a robotic arm, which it will then return to Earth.
                - mass: 1530 kg wet
                - planned launch in 2016, planned return in 2023


                • #9
                  Venus Express' mission, listed in the first post, might come to a slightly earlier end. Routine science operations concluded this week, and fuel supplies onboard the craft are rather low.

                  ESA is going to aerobrake the orbiter into Venus' atmosphere to an altitude of 130 km above the surface - possibly even lower. This will begin June 18th and mission control hopes to maintain an in-atmosphere orbit of Venus for about three weeks. Previous aerobrake maneuvers took the orbiter to the edge of Venus' atmosphere at 165 km altitude. The orbiter will then use its sensors that were originally intended to monitor its space environment and solar wind in order to directly sample and observe the upper layers of Venus' atmosphere.

                  The intention is to both practice aerobraking maneuvers for future space probes; up-close monitor lower atmosphere layers such as the sulphuric acid cloud layer from only some 50-60 km distance; and explore conditions in the upper atmosphere layers which are not directly accessible to monitoring from space.

                  Provided the probe survives the maneuvers and fuel supplies are enough for this its altitude will afterwards be re-raised to 450 km again for operations until the end of the year. Most people think it won't survive it. ESA itself considers "the plunge" the pretty much guaranteed end of the mission.
                  Attached Files


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by kato View Post
                    LISA Pathfinder
                    - ESA ; previously NASA project
                    - gravitational wave detector demonstrator (for LISA project)
                    - SEL1 orbiter
                    - launch in July 2015
                    Scientific setup:
                    - satellite will suspend two small cubes in perfect free fall within two test vacuum cans inside itself, separated by about 13 inches distance.
                    - satellite uses ultra-high-precision microthrusters to exactly stay centered on the cubes.
                    - satellite will measure the relative movement of the two cubes regarding each other (with a precision of 1 picometre).
                    - since both cubes are in perfect free fall, any relative movement would show a gravitational wave influence upon the craft, i.e. a gravitational ripple or a warping in timespace.

                    Planned observations are for ca three months, extendable to one year. The whole experiment occurs at SEL1 since it needs to be outside the gravitational field of Earth. The two 69.7-ounce cubes are made of a gold-platinum alloy which is practically immune to magnetic fields. Including their caskets made from gold and sapphires, those proof masses are probably easily worth half a million bucks...

                    eLISA will repeat the experiment in the second half of the 2030s, as ESA's Cosmic Vision L3 mission. Except eLISA will not fly at SEL1, but instead considerably farther out. It will also instead be configured with three cubes in separate spacecraft flying at perfect precision in a triangular formation with each craft exactly 5 million kilometers separated from each other.


                    • #11
                      Inner Solar System : Below Jupiter

                      - ESA
                      - Three separate missions in two launches:
                      • Trace Gas Orbiter
                        - remote observation of Mars atmosphere (mid 2017, operations minimum one Mars year)
                        - data/communications relay function (January 2019 to December 2022)
                        - Launch: January 2016 (with Schiaparelli)
                      • Schiaparelli
                        - Mars lander, touchdown October 2016
                        - limited scientific payload: examining dust storms on Mars, in particular their genesis through electric fields
                        - Launch: January 2016 (with Trace Gas Orbiter)
                      • ExoMars Rover
                        - will likely be slightly larger than the smaller US Spirit rovers
                        - like Curiosity, will move around autonomously.
                        - scientific package is geared towards ground survey: high-power drill tool*, ground-penetrating radar, borehole-analyzing spectrometer etc
                        - exact landing site and area of operations will be decided in 2017
                        - Launch: March 2018

                      * the drill is interesting in that it's pretty much built like one for drilling on earth. 70cm primary rod drilling down, then a 50cm extension rod is attached and further drilled, then another and so on. Maximum depth 2 meters (Curiosity: 5 cm). In theory wouldn't be a problem to build the same with more extension rods for future missions. If the drill gets stuck in the ground the rover can jettison the whole unit to continue its mission otherwise.
                      Last edited by kato; 04 Jun 14,, 10:37.


                      • #12
                        Sole Chinese planned mission in this category:

                        - CAS with ESA participation
                        - space weather satellite
                        - SEL1 orbiter
                        - launch 2017

                        ESA is planning to replace the capabilities of SOHO with this mission, switching over from a US to a Chinese platform after SOHO ceases operations end of 2016. Launch was initially planned by China for 2012 without ESA participation, but has been postponed.


                        • #13
                          A rocky planet dubbed a "mega earth" has been discovered in a distant star system.

                          The planet, known as Kepler-10c, is so old that theoretically it should have become a "Jupiter-like gas giant" - but has remained solid like Earth.

                          It is twice as old as Earth and has 17 times the mass, and its discovery suggests potentially life-bearing rocky planets could be far more abundant than previously thought.

                          "This is the Godzilla of Earths, but unlike the movie monster, Kepler-10c has positive implications for life," said Dr Dimitar Sasselov, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

                          "Finding Kepler-10c tells us that rocky planets could form much earlier than we thought. And if you can make rocks, you can make life."

                          The Kepler-10 star system is an estimated 11 billion years old, which means it formed less than three billion years after the Big Bang.

                          Earth is roughly 4.5 billion years old.

                          Kepler-10c circles its equivalent of the Sun - part of the Draco constellation - every 45 days.

                          It has at least one neighbour, known as Kepler-10b, which is a scorching "lava world" that navigates its star in just 20 hours.

                          Observers at the Italian Galileo National Telescope in the Canary Islands realised the planet was made from rock - not gas - after discovering it had 17 times the mass of Earth.

                          "We were very surprised when we realised what we had found," said astronomer Dr Xavier Dumusque, also from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who led the research.

                          "Kepler-10c didn't lose its atmosphere over time. It's massive enough to have held onto one if it ever had it - it must have formed the way we see it now."


                          • #14
                            Kepler-10c has positive implications for life
                            An equilibrium temperature 100K above the boiling point of water makes a prettive negative implication in that regard for me. At least on that planet.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by kato View Post
                              An equilibrium temperature 100K above the boiling point of water makes a prettive negative implication in that regard for me. At least on that planet.
                              Its the implication that there are far more planets that could / can support life as we know it , Jim , is the crux of the msg ;)
                              Last edited by tankie; 05 Jun 14,, 12:23.