|Past Space Missions
These missions were completed after 1989. Many of them are still scientifically productive, as they provided data sets that are still in use by the scientific community, and that can be found through the Space Science Data System .
If the mission you are looking for is older, or otherwise not on this list, you may want to browse the JPL list of past planetary missions or the National Space Science Data Center database , or perhaps search the entire NASA Web .
ASCA (originally Astro-D) was Japan’s fourth cosmic X-ray astronomy mission, and the second for which the United States provided part of the scientific payload. ASCA was launched 1993 February 20, and was designed to last for 3 years. ASCA produced great science until 2000 July 15, when it was knocked out of operation by a geomagnetic storm, only months before it was expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.
Astro-1 consisted of three ultraviolet telescopes and an X-ray telescope flown in the shuttle payload bay. Since many science objectives and selected astronomical targets of the instrument teams were inter-related, simultaneous observations by all four instruments were performed. The Astro observatory required both mission specialists and payload specialists to control its operations from the Shuttle aft flight deck. The Astro-1 mission was launched 2 December 1990, and returned to earth 11 December 1990. Astro-2 was the second Astro mission flown in the shuttle payload bay, and consisted of the three ultraviolet telescopes; the x-ray telescope was not flown on Astro-2. The mission launched in March 1995.
Astro-E was Japan’s fifth X-ray Astronomy mission. It was developed at the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) in collaboration with U.S. (NASA/GSFC, MIT) and other Japanese institutions. The U.S. contributions to this mission included Goddard Space Flight Center building the X-ray telescopes and micro-calorimeters, and MIT building the four X-ray imaging spectrometers. After 6 years of hard work by a dedicated staff of scientists, engineers, and administrators, Astro-E was launched on February 10, 2000 at 1030 JST, from Japan’s Kagoshima Space Center (KSC). Unfortunately, there was a problem with the first stage of the Japanese M V rocket. Astro-E could not obtain the necessary altitude for a proper orbit, and the satellite was declared unusable.
BBXRT was flown on the space shuttle Columbia (STS-35) on 2-11 December 1990, as part of the ASTRO-1 payload. The flight of BBXRT marked the first opportunity for performing X-ray observations over a broad energy range with a moderate energy resolution. In spite of some well-publicized technical hitches during the mission with the instrument’s pointing system, BBXRT successfully performed ~160 observations of ~80 celestial sources including clusters of galaxies, active galaxies, SNR, X-ray binaries, cataclysmic variables, stars, and the X-ray background.
Clementine was a joint project between the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization and NASA. The objective of the mission was to test sensors and spacecraft components under extended exposure to the space environment and to make scientific observations of the Moon and the near-Earth asteroid 1620 Geographos. Clementine was launched on 25 January 1994. Lunar mapping took place over approximately two months. After leaving lunar orbit, a malfunction in one of the on-board computers on 7 May caused a thruster to fire until it had used up all of its fuel, leaving the spacecraft spinning at about 80 RPM with no spin control. This made the planned continuation of the mission, a flyby of the near-Earth asteroid Geographos, impossible. The spacecraft remained in geocentric orbit and continued testing the spacecraft components until the end of the mission. NASA funded a number of science grants using Clementine data.
CGRO, the second of NASA’s Great Observatories, was launched 1991 April 5. It had a diverse scientific agenda, including studies of very energetic celestial phenomena: solar flares, cosmic gamma-ray bursts, pulsars, nova and supernova explosions, accreting black holes of stellar dimensions, quasar emission, and interactions of cosmic rays with the interstellar medium. Compton left a legacy of outstanding science and revolutionized our knowledge of the gamma ray sky. Its mission ended on 2000 June 4, when it was de-orbited following the failure of one of its three gyroscopes.
The COBE satellite was developed to measure the diffuse infrared and microwave radiation from the early universe, to the limits set by our astrophysical environment. It was launched 18 November 1989 and carried three instruments, a Far Infrared Absolute Spectrophotometer (FIRAS) to compare the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background radiation with a precise blackbody, a Differential Microwave Radiometer (DMR) to map the cosmic radiation precisely, and a Diffuse Infrared Background Experiment (DIRBE) to search for the cosmic infrared background radiation. The cosmic microwave background spectrum was measured with a precision of 0.005%; the results confirmed the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe.
CONTOUR’s goals are to improve our knowledge of key characteristics of comet nuclei and to assess their diversity, by making close approaches to at least two comets. CONTOUR was launched 2002 July 3; on August 15, when CONTOUR was to have fired its onboard motor to depart from Earth orbit, contact with the spacecraft was lost, and it may have broken into pieces.
CRRES was launched 25 July 1990 for a nominal three-year mission to investigate fields, plasmas, and energetic particles inside the Earth’s magnetosphere. As part of the CRRES program the SPACERAD (Space Radiation Effects) project, managed by Air Force Geophysics Laboratory, investigated the radiation environment of the inner and outer radiation belts and measured radiation effects on state-of-the-art microelectronics devices. The chemical release project was managed by NASA/MSFC and utilized the release of chemicals from onboard cannisters at low altitudes near dawn and dusk perigee times and at high altitudes near local midnight. Contact with the CRRES spacecraft was lost on 12 October 1991 and was presumed to be due to onboard battery failure.
During its 11-month primary mission, DS1 successfully tested 12 revolutionary technologies destined for future missions. Having met or exceeded all of its mission success criteria, DS1 began an extended mission which included an encounter with a comet in September 2001 and additional technology testing. Heralding future solar system missions, DS1 was the first to use high-performance, solar electric ion propulsion. (Launched 1998 October 24; mission ended 2001 December 18)
On 1999 December 3, two basketball-sized aeroshells arrived at Mars via the Mars Polar Lander spacecraft. Each aeroshell was designed to shatter on impact with Mars’ surface, releasing a miniature two-piece science probe that would punch into the soil to a depth of up to 1 meter. The microprobes’ primary science goal: to determine if water ice is present in the Martian subsurface. Unfortunately, no signal was received from the probes following Mars arrival. (Launched 1999 January 3)
The primary objective of the DXS payload was to obtain measurements on the diffuse soft X-ray background radiation in the Milky Way Galaxy. DXS flew successfully in January 1993 as a shuttle cargo bay attached payload.
The DE mission’s general objective was to investigate the strong interactive processes coupling the hot, tenuous, convecting plasmas of the magnetosphere and the cooler, denser plasmas and gases corotating in the earth’s ionosphere, upper atmosphere, and plasmasphere. Two satellites, DE-1 and DE-2, were launched together on 3 August 1981 and were placed in polar coplanar orbits, permitting simultaneous measurements at high and low altitudes in the same field-line region. DE-2 reentered the atmosphere on 19 February 1983; DE-1 operations were terminated on 28 February 1991.
Equator-S was a German Space Agency project, with contributions from ESA and NASA, related to the International Solar-Terrestrial Physics program. The mission provided high-resolution plasma, magnetic, and electric field measurements in several regions not adequately covered by any of the existing ISTP missions. The spacecraft was launched 2 December 1997, and stopped transmitting data on 1 May 1998.
EUVE was an astronomy mission operating in the largely unexplored extreme ultraviolet (70-760 Å© band. The science payload consisted of three grazing incidence scanning telescopes and an extreme ultraviolet (EUV) spectrometer/deep survey instrument. The spacecraft was launched 1992 June 7 and was completely successful, exceeding its science goals. EUVE was turned off on 2001 January 31.
HALCA is led by Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science. The project allows imaging of astronomical radio sources with a signficantly improved resolution over ground-only observations. The JPL VLBI project provided support for the U.S. tracking stations associated with HALCA, coordinated U.S. science efforts together with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and ensured the delivery of high-quality science data to successful U.S. proposers. (Launched 1997 February 12; U.S. support terminated 2002 February 7)
Hipparcos was a European Space Agency mission dedicated to the precise measurement of the positions, parallaxes and proper motions of the stars. The satellite was launched by Ariane in August 1989, and after collecting more than three years of extremely high-quality scientific data, communications were terminated with the satellite in August 1993. All of the mission goals were significantly exceeded. NASA provided some critical support to the mission.
Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 3B
HST Servicing Mission 3B included the installation of the Advanced Camera for Surveys , a camera 10 times more powerful than the present Faint Object Camera, plus the installation of new solar arrays, restoration of the Near Infrared Camera instrument, and other maintenance activities. (Shuttle mission 2002 March 1 – March 12)
Here you will find information about the launch of HST in 1990, the First Servicing Mission in 1993, the Second Servicing Mission in 1997, the Hubble Orbiting Systems Test (HOST) / Cryocooler experiments conducted on the shuttle in 1998 October, and Servicing Mission 3A in December 1999.
Seven experiments made up the the IEH-3 payload on the STS-95 Space Shuttle mission. The seven hitchhiker experiments were attached to a carrier system in the bay of the Shuttle orbiter for the flight in space. Several of the 7 experiments were sponsored by the Office of Space Science. (Shuttle Launch: STS-95, 29 October 1998)
ISEE-3 was originally part of the mother/daughter/heliocentric mission (ISEE 1, 2, and 3). The three spacecraft carried a number of complementary instruments for making measurements of plasmas, energetic particles, waves, and fields. Later, the spacecraft was re-named the International Cometary Explorer (ICE). The primary scientific objective of ICE was to study the interaction between the solar wind and a cometary atmosphere. As planned, the spacecraft traversed the plasma tail of Comet Giacobini-Zinner on 11 September 1985, and made in situ measurements of particles, fields, and waves. As of January 1990, ICE was in a 355-day heliocentric orbit with an aphelion of 1.03 AU, a perihelion of 0.93 AU and an inclination of 0.1 degree. This will bring it back to the vicinity of the Earth-Moon system in August 2014. Termination of operations was authorized 5 May 1997.
IMP-8 was instrumented for interplanetary, magnetotail, and magnetospheric boundary studies of cosmic rays, energetic solar particles, plasma, and electric and magnetic fields. The objectives of the mission were to provide solar wind parameters as input for magnetospheric studies and as a 1-AU baseline for deep space studies, and to continue solar cycle variation studies with a single set of well-calibrated and understood instruments. (Launched 1973 October 26; operations terminated 2001 October 26)
IRTS was the first Japanese orbiting telescope dedicated to infrared astronomy observations. The IRTS is a cryogenically cooled infrared telescope that flew aboard a multi-purpose space platform SFU (Space Flyer Unit). It was launched by a Japanese new rocket HII on 18 March 1995 and retrieved by the U.S Space Shuttle in January 1996. It surveyed approximately 7 % of the sky with a relatively wide beam. Four focal plane instruments made simultaneous observations of the sky at wavelengths from 1 to 1000 microns. NASA funded U.S. science participation.
ISO, a project of the European Space Agency (ESA), operated at wavelengths from 2.5 – 240 microns. ISO provided astronomers with a unique facility of unprecedented sensitivity for a detailed exploration of the universe ranging from objects in the solar system to the most distant extragalactic sources. The Office of Space Science supported U.S. participation in the project. (Launched 17 November 1995; ceased science operations April 8, 1998)
At a Mission Elapsed Time of 18 years, 8 months, 4 days, 1 hour, and 6 minutes, the IUE spacecraft was shut down on 30 September 1996. Observers from around the world took advantage of this workhorse observatory, gathering data from a wide variety of astronomical sources. Short and long wavelength spectrographic cameras covered ultraviolet wavelengths from about 1200 to 3400 Å® These wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation are obscured from the ground by the Earth’s protective ozone layer.
For over twenty years, the KAO was operated as the world’s only airborne telescope devoted exclusively to astronomical research. A converted C-141 military cargo plane carrying a 36-inch reflecting telescope, the KAO was the scene of many major discoveries , including the first sightings of the rings of Uranus and a definitive identification of an atmosphere on Pluto. Named after astronomer Gerard P. Kuiper, the KAO ended its long service to astronomy in October, 1995, so that work could begin on its successor, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
In November of 1998 and 1999, Earth crossed the fresh ejecta of comet Tempel-Tuttle, resulting in large numbers of meteors. This offered an opportunity to study that comet by using the Earth’s atmosphere as a giant detector in a low-cost comet mission. Leonid MAC used two aircraft carrying a variety of instruments to examine the comet particles themselves as well as their impact on the upper atmosphere.
Lunar Prospector was the third of NASA’s Discovery missions. The project mapped the chemical composition of the lunar surface and the Moon’s global magnetic and gravity fields at a level of detail greater than that achieved by previous missions. The mission found evidence of water ice in shadowed craters near the lunar poles, a key issue for any future human exploration. LP was launched 1998 January 6, and made a planned crash into the moon on 1999 July 31.
The Magellan spacecraft, named after the sixteenth-century Portuguese explorer whose expedition first circumnavigated the Earth, was launched 4 May 1989, and arrived at Venus on 10 August 1990. Magellan collected radar images of 98 percent of the planet’s surface, with resolution 10 times better than that of the earlier Soviet Venera 15 and 16 missions. Altimetry and radiometry data also measured the surface topography and electrical characteristics. The spacecraft made a dramatic conclusion to its highly successful mission when it was commanded to plunge into the planet’s dense atmosphere Tuesday, 11 October 1994 to gain data on the planet’s atmosphere and on the performance of the spacecraft as it descended.
The Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander are two spacecraft that were launched separately, but comprise the Mars 98 mission to study the Martian weather, climate, and water and carbon dioxide budget. MCO was launched 11 December 1998. Upon arrival at Mars, the orbiter was to use a series of aerobraking maneuvers to achieve a stable orbit, and then use atmospheric instruments and cameras to provide detailed information about the surface and climate of Mars. Unfortunately, the spacecraft failed to achieve orbit around Mars, and contact with it was lost on 1999 September 23.
Mars Observer was designed to study the geoscience and climate of Mars. The primary science objectives for the mission were to: (1) determine the global elemental and mineralogical character of the surface material; (2) define globally the topography and gravitational field; (3) establish the nature of the Martian magnetic field; (4) determine the temporal and spatial distribution, abundance, sources, and sinks of volatiles and dust over a seasonal cycle; and, (5) explore the structure and circulation of the atmosphere. Launch occurred on 25 September 1992. Contact with Mars Observer was lost on 21 August 1993, three days before scheduled orbit insertion.
Mars Pathfinder launched 2 December 1996 and arrived on the surface of Mars on 4 July 1997. The mission was an engineering demonstration of key technologies and concepts for use in future missions to Mars; it also delivered science instruments to the surface of Mars to investigate the structure of the martian atmosphere, surface meteorology, surface geology, form, and structure, and the elemental composition of martian rocks and soil. A small, 10-kilogram (22-pound) rover was carried on the Pathfinder and became the first rover ever to explore the Martian surface. The last communication from the spacecraft was received on 27 September 1997, and it was officially declared dead on 10 March 1998.
The Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) and Mars Polar Lander (MPL) are two spacecraft that were launched separately to study the Martian weather, climate, and water and carbon dioxide budget. The goal of MPL was to soft land, under propulsive power, near the edges of the South Polar ice cap on Mars, and to use cameras, a robotic arm and instruments to measure the Martian soil composition. The spacecraft was launched 1999 January 3; no signal was received from the spacecraft upon arrival at Mars on 1999 December 3.
As the first spacecraft to orbit (and land on!) an asteroid, the NEAR Shoemaker mission continues to answer fundamental questions about the nature and origin of near-Earth objects. These objects are of interest because they are the primary source of large bodies that collide with Earth, and because clues to the nature of early solar system processes and conditions are preserved on primitive bodies like asteroids, comets, and meteorites. These clues have been altered or destroyed on large, planet-sized bodies by processes of planetary evolution. (Launched 1996 February 17; asteroid landing and final communication 2001 February 12)
The ORFEUS-SPAS II mission was a joint German/U.S. platform containing a high tech observatory which studied the invisible universe in ultraviolet light. The ORFEUS-SPAS II platform was launched on 19 November 1996 GMT aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on the STS-80 mission. The platform was released from the Shuttle’s robot arm 8 hours later, allowing astronomers to probe stars, galaxies, planets and quasars in ultraviolet light. Astronomers from around the world gathered data on over 200 targets during 427 pointings during the ORFEUS-SPAS mission. ORFEUS-SPAS II was retrieved by the Shuttle’s remote arm on 4 December 1996 after 14 days of free-flight, and stowed in the Shuttle’s payload bay for landing.
Launched on 2 March 1972, Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to travel through the Asteroid belt, and the first spacecraft to make direct observations and obtain closeup images of Jupiter. The most remote object ever made by man, Pioneer 10 is over 6.3 billion miles away, and made valuable scientific investigations in the outer regions of our solar system until the end of its mission on 31 March 1997. Pioneer 10 is headed towards the constellation of Taurus (The Bull). It will take Pioneer over 2 million years to pass by one of the stars in the constellation.
Launched on 5 April 1973, Pioneer 11 followed its sister ship to Jupiter (1974), made the first direct observations of Saturn (1979), and studied energetic particles in the outer heliosphere. The Pioneer 11 Mission ended in September 1995, when the last transmission from the spacecraft was received. Its electrical power source exhausted, the spacecraft could no longer operate any of its scientific instruments, nor point its antenna toward Earth. The spacecraft is headed toward the constellation of Aquila (the Eagle), northwest of the constellation of Sagittarius. Pioneer 11 may pass near one of the stars in the constellation in about 4 million years.
The Orbiter was launched on 20 May 1978; on 4 December 1978, it was injected into a highly elliptical orbit around Venus. The orbit permitted global mapping of the clouds, atmosphere and ionosphere; measurement of upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and solar wind-ionosphere interaction; and mapping of the planet’s surface by radar. For the first 19 months of the mission, the periapis was maintained at about 150 km by periodic maneuvers. As propellant began to run low, the maneuvers were discontinued, and Solar gravitational effects caused the periapsis to rise to about 2,300 km. By 1986, the gravitational effects caused the periapsis to start falling again, and the orbiter instruments could again make direct measurement within the main ionosphere. During the Orbiter’s mission, opportunities arose to make systematic observations of several comets. Starting in September 1992, controllers used the remaining fuel in a series of maneuvers to keep raising periapsis altitude for as long as possible. On 8 October 1992, its fuel supply exhausted, the Orbiter ended its mission as a meteor flaming through the dense atmosphere of Venus.
ROSAT was an X-ray observatory developed through a cooperative program between the Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The satellite was designed and operated by Germany, and was launched by the United States. The ROSAT mission began with a six-month, all-sky PSPC survey, after which the satellite began a series of pointed observations. (Launched 1 June 1990; declared non-operational 3 November 1998)
SAC-B was an international cooperative project between NASA and Argentina’s National Commission of Space Activities (CONAE). The satellite was designed to advance the study of solar physics and astrophysics through the examination of solar flares, gamma ray bursts, diffuse X-ray cosmic background, and energetic neutral atoms. NASA provided two scientific instruments, launch services, and support for initial orbit operations. Due to failure of the launch vehicle to separate from the spacecraft following launch on 4 November 1996, power on board the spacecraft was lost.
SNOE (“snowy”) is a small satellite investigating the effects of energy from the sun and from the magnetosphere on the density of nitric oxide in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The SNOE spacecraft and its instrument complement were designed and built, and are being operated, entirely at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP). Although SNOE is still operational, NASA support has ended. (Launched 1998 February 25)
Spartan is a small, Shuttle-launched and -retrieved satellite. Spartan 201, whose mission is to study the Sun, has a science payload consisting of two telescopes: the Ultraviolet Coronal Spectrometer (UVCS) and the White Light Coronagraph (WLC). Spartan 201 was launched aboard the Space Shuttle five times.
The Starshine satellites are covered with front-surface aluminum mirrors that were machined and polished by students. Student observers measure the satellite’s position at precise times, and they record the timing of their observation by the use of stopwatches synchronized with international time signals. Besides the educational goals, the project is intended to provide data on Earth’s upper atmosphere.
TERRIERS was a very small “University-class” Explorer intended to study a number of ionospheric and thermospheric phenomena, and test the utility of long term solar EUV (extreme ultraviolet) irradiance measurements. Launched 1999 May 17, the spacecraft apparently failed to properly orient its solar panels towards the sun, and ran out of battery power shortly after launch.
TSS consisted of a satellite, a conducting tether, and a tether deployment/retrieval system to be flown on the Space Shuttle. The objectives of the TSS mission were to: (1) verify engineering performance of the Tethered Satellite System (TSS); (2) determine and understand the electro-magnetic interaction between the tether/satellite/orbiter system and the ambient space plasma; (3) investigate and understand the dynamical forces acting upon a tethered satellite; and, (4) develop the capability for future tether applications on the Shuttle and Space Station. Because of a technical problem (a protruding bolt) during the first mission, the tether could only be released to about 840 feet; some science data were obtained. During the second mission, five hours after deployment began on 25 February 1996, with 19.7 km (of 20.7 planned) of tether released, the tether cable suddenly snapped near the top of the deployment boom. The TSS satellite shot away into a higher orbit. TSS instruments were re-activated and produced science data for three days until battery power ran out.
WIRE was designed to use a cryogenically-cooled telescope and arrays of highly sensitive infrared detectors for the study of galaxy evolution. The spacecraft was launched 1999 March 4 but quickly developed attitude control problems leading to overheating and loss of cryogenic hydrogen. On 1999 March 8 it was announced that there would be no infrared science return; however, the spacecraft was used as an engineering testbed, and also produced some science return using its star tracker until 2000 September 29.
Yohkoh, an observatory for studying X-rays and gamma-rays from the Sun, is a project of the Institute for Space and Astronautical Sciences, Japan. The spacecraft was built in Japan, but the observing instruments had contributions from the U.S. and from Great Britain. Yohkoh was launched 1991 August 30; the spacecraft lost attitude control in 2001 December, and recovery attempts have been unsuccessful.