Orion Spacecraft

Artist's concept of the Orion spacecraft on a future mission to Mars. Artist’s concept of the Orion spacecraft on a future mission to Mars.

Planned Launch (Exploration Mission-1): 2019

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is built to take humans farther than they’ve ever gone before. Orion will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. Orion will launch on NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System. On the first integrated mission, Exploration Mission-1, an un-crewed Orion will venture thousands of miles beyond the Moon over the course of about three weeks. The mission will pave the way for flights with astronauts beginning in the early 2020s.

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Rosetta

This artist's concept represents ESA's Rosetta spacecraft passing by an asteroid. Image Credit: ESA. This artist’s concept represents ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft passing by an asteroid. Image Credit: ESA.

Launched: March 2, 2004

Rosetta was a spacecraft on a ten-year mission to catch the comet “67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko” (C-G) and was the first spacecraft to soft-land a robot on a comet. It was also the first spacecraft to accompany a comet as it entered our inner solar system, observing at close range how the comet changed as the Sun’s heat transformed it.

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Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)

An artist's concept of the Solar Dynamics Observatory observing the sun. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image Lab. An artist’s concept of SDO observing the sun. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Conceptual Image Lab.

Launched: February 11, 2010

The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is the first mission to be launched for a program designed to understand the causes of solar variability and its impacts on Earth. SDO is designed to help us understand the Sun’s influence on Earth and Near-Earth space by studying the solar atmosphere on small scales of space and time and in many wavelengths simultaneously.

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Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO)

An artist's concept of the Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) surrounding the Sun. Image credit: NASA. An artist’s concept of STEREO surrounding the Sun. Image credit: NASA.

Launched: October 25, 2006

STEREO is the third mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program. It employs two nearly identical space-based observatories — one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind — to provide the first-ever stereoscopic measurements to study the Sun and the nature of its coronal mass ejections.

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Voyager 1 & 2

This artist's concept depicts NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft entering interstellar space, or the space between stars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. This artist’s concept depicts NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft entering interstellar space, or the space between stars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Launched: September 5, 1977 & August 20, 1977

The twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. Continuing on their more-than-37-year journey since their 1977 launches, they each are much farther away from Earth and the sun than Pluto. In August 2012, Voyager 1 made the historic entry into interstellar space, the region between stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago. Scientists hope to learn more about this region when Voyager 2, in the “heliosheath” — the outermost layer of the heliosphere, where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar medium — also reaches interstellar space. Both spacecraft are still sending scientific information about their surroundings through the Deep Space Network.

The primary mission was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. After making a string of discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and intricacies of Saturn’s rings — the mission was extended. Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune, and is still the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets. The adventurers’ current mission, the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM), will explore the outermost edge of the Sun’s domain — and beyond. The Voyager probes also carry the “Golden Record” — a “time capsule” containing images and sounds of Earth, as well as directions on how to play the record. Carl Sagan spearheaded this inclusion, on the very small chance some unknown extraterrestrial civilization might contact the probes in the far, far future, and know that we exist(ed).

The Golden Record cover, and its visual instructions. Image credit: NASA/JPL. The Golden Record cover, and its visual instructions. Image credit: NASA/JPL.

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Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer

An artist's rendering of the Swift spacecraft with a gamma-ray burst going off in the background. Image credit: Spectrum and NASA E/PO, Sonoma State University, Aurore Simonnet. An artist’s rendering of the Swift spacecraft with a gamma-ray burst going off in the background. Image credit: Spectrum and NASA E/PO, Sonoma State University, Aurore Simonnet.

Launched: November 20, 2004

Swift is a first-of-its-kind multi-wavelength observatory dedicated to the study of gamma-ray burst (GRB) science. Its three instruments work together to observe GRBs and afterglows in the gamma-ray, X-ray, ultraviolet, and optical wavebands.

GRBs are the most powerful explosions the Universe has seen since the Big Bang. They occur approximately once per day and are brief, but intense, flashes of gamma radiation. They come from all different directions of the sky and last from a few milliseconds to a few hundred seconds.

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Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope

Artist’s concept of Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA. Artist’s concept of Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA.

Launched: June 11, 2008

NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is a powerful space observatory that opens a wide window on the universe. Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, and the gamma-ray sky is spectacularly different from the one we perceive with our own eyes. Fermi enables scientists to answer persistent questions across a broad range of topics, including supermassive black-hole systems, pulsars, the origin of cosmic rays, and searches for signals of new physics.

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Chandra X-ray Observatory

This artist's illustration depicts NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in space. Image credit: Next Generation Space Telescope. This artist’s illustration depicts NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in space. Image credit: Next Generation Space Telescope.

Launched: July 23, 1999

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory is a telescope specially designed to detect X-ray emissions from very hot regions of the Universe such as exploded stars, clusters of galaxies, and matter around black holes. Because X-rays are absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere, Chandra must orbit above it, up to an altitude of 139,000 km (86,500 mi) in space.

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Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)

Artist's concept of NuSTAR in orbit. NuSTAR has a 10-meter (30') mast that deployed after launch to separate the optics modules (right) from the detectors in the focal plane (left). The spacecraft, which controls NuSTAR's pointings, and the solar panels, are with the focal plane. NuSTAR has two identical optics modules in order to increase sensitivity. The background is an image of the Galactic center obtained with the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Artist’s concept of NuSTAR in orbit. NuSTAR has a 10-meter (30′) mast that deployed after launch to separate the optics modules (right) from the detectors in the focal plane (left). The spacecraft, which controls NuSTAR’s pointings, and the solar panels, are with the focal plane. NuSTAR has two identical optics modules in order to increase sensitivity. The background is an image of the Galactic center obtained with the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Launched: June 13, 2012

NuSTAR is the first satellite to focus high-energy X-rays into sharp images. NuSTAR’s high-energy X-ray eyes see with more than 100 times the sensitivity of previous missions that have operated in this part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and with 10 times better resolution. NuSTAR sheds light on some of the hottest, densest, and most energetic objects in the universe.

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Hubble Space Telescope

This photograph of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was taken on the fourth servicing mission to the observatory in 2009. Image credit: NASA. This photograph of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was taken on the fourth servicing mission to the observatory in 2009. Image credit: NASA.

Launched: April 24, 1990

Hubble, the observatory, is the first major optical telescope to be placed in space, the ultimate mountaintop. Above the distortion of the atmosphere, far above rain clouds and light pollution, Hubble has an unobstructed view of the universe. Scientists have used Hubble to observe the most distant stars and galaxies as well as the planets in our solar system.

Hubble’s launch and deployment in April 1990 marked the most significant advance in astronomy since Galileo’s telescope. Thanks to four servicing missions and more than 25 years of operation, our view of the universe and our place within it has never been the same.

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Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS)

Artist's concept of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) satellite in orbit. Image credit: NASA. Artist’s concept of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) satellite in orbit. Image credit: NASA.

Launched: June 27, 2013

The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) is a NASA Small Explorer Mission to observe how solar material moves, gathers energy, and heats up as it travels through a little-understood region in the Sun’s lower atmosphere. Tracking how material and energy move through this region is a crucial part of understanding the dynamics of the Sun. Such information can help explain what causes the ejection of solar material — from the steady stream of the solar wind to larger, explosive eruptions such as coronal mass ejections (CMEs) — that travels toward Earth and causes space weather that can disrupt human technology.

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Kepler Mission

This artistic impression shows NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft operating in a new mission profile called K2. Its new mission of observing in the ecliptic plane – the orbital path of Earth around the Sun – is depicted by the grey-blue line marked by opaque cross-like shapes. Each shape represents the field-of-view of an observing campaign. Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle. This artistic impression shows NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft operating in a new mission profile called K2. Its new mission of observing in the ecliptic plane — the orbital path of Earth around the Sun — is depicted by the grey-blue line marked by opaque cross-like shapes. Each shape represents the field of view of an observing campaign. Image credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle.

Launched: March 6, 2009

The Kepler Mission is specifically designed to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy to discover hundreds of Earth-size and smaller planets in or near the habitable zone and determine the fraction of the hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy that might have such planets.

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Spitzer Space Telescope

This artist's concept shows NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer is depicted in the orientation it assumes to establish communications with ground stations. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (IPAC). This artist’s concept shows NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer is depicted in the orientation it assumes to establish communications with ground stations. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (IPAC).

Launched: August 25, 2003

Spitzer’s highly sensitive instruments allow scientists to peer into cosmic regions that are hidden from optical telescopes, including dusty stellar nurseries, the centers of galaxies, and newly forming planetary systems. Spitzer’s infrared eyes also allow astronomers see cooler objects in space, like failed stars (brown dwarfs), extrasolar planets, giant molecular clouds, and organic molecules that may hold the secret to life on other planets.

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Near Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE)

This artist's concept shows the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE spacecraft, in its orbit around Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. This artist’s concept shows the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE spacecraft, in its orbit around Earth. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Launched: December 14, 2009 (hibernation Feb 2011–Aug 2013)

The NEOWISE mission hunts for near-Earth objects (NEOs) using the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft. Funded by NASA’s NEO Observations Program, the NEOWISE mission uses images taken by the spacecraft to look for asteroids and comets, providing a rich source of measurements of solar system objects at infrared wavelengths. These measurements include wavelengths that are difficult or impossible to detect directly from the ground.

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Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX)

Artist's rendition of IBEX spacecraft. Image credit: NASA. Artist’s rendition of IBEX spacecraft. Image credit: NASA.

Launched: October 19, 2008

The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission science objective is to go a step further than Voyager and discover the nature of the interactions between the solar wind and the interstellar medium at the edge of our solar system. Roughly the size of a card table, IBEX is the latest in NASA’s series of low-cost, rapidly developed Small Explorers spacecraft.

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Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 02 (AMS-02)

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 02 (AMS-02)International Space Station module. Image Credit: NASA/JSC. Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer 02 (AMS-02) International Space Station module. Image Credit: NASA/JSC.

Launched: May 16, 2011

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS-02) is a state-of-the-art particle physics detector designed to operate as an external module on the International Space Station. It will use the unique environment of space to study the universe and its origin by searching for antimatter, dark matter while performing precision measurements of cosmic rays composition and flux. The AMS-02 observations will help answer fundamental questions, such as “What makes up the universe’s invisible mass?” or “What happened to the primordial antimatter?”

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Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)

An artist’s rendering of TESS in orbit. Image credit: Randy Persinger. An artist’s rendering of TESS in orbit. Image credit: Randy Persinger.

Planned Launch: March 2018

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is an Explorer-class planet finder. In the first-ever spaceborne all-sky transit survey, TESS will identify planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, orbiting a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances. The principal goal of the TESS mission is to detect small planets with bright host stars in the solar neighborhood, so that detailed characterizations of the planets and their atmospheres can be performed.

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James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

Artist's rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope in space. Image credit: Northrop Grumman.

Planned Launch: Spring 2019

The James Webb Space Telescope (sometimes called JWST or Webb) will be a large infrared telescope with a 6.5-meter primary mirror. Webb will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System.

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Europa Clipper

This artist's rendering shows NASA's Europa mission spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Europa mission spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Planned Launch: TBD (2020s)

This mission will place a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter in order to perform a detailed investigation of Europa — a world that shows strong evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust, and which could host conditions favorable for life. The mission will send a highly capable, radiation-tolerant spacecraft into a long, looping orbit around Jupiter to perform repeated close flybys of the icy moon.

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