List of probes by operational status
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The MESSENGER spacecraft|
This is a list of all probes which have escaped Earth orbit, as categorized by current operational status and mission progress. The list includes lunar probes, but does not include probes orbiting at Lagrangian points L1 or L2. Landing vehicles are not listed independently of their transport craft if the two vehicles failed to successfully detach. Probes intended to escape orbit but which failed to do so are also not included.
This includes all craft which are still able to transmit usable data to Earth (whether or not they can receive commands). They are further grouped by mission status based on their primary mission. For example, though Voyager 1 is en route to the heliopause, it is listed as 'mission complete' because its primary task of studying Jupiter and Saturn has been accomplished. Once a probe has reached its first primary target, it is no longer listed as 'en route' whether or not further travel is involved.
- Rosetta, launched after several delays and mission changes, is currently on an intercept course with 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will deploy a lander for further investigation after reaching the comet.
- Launched: 2 March 2004 | Destination: 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko | Arrival: May 2015 | Institution: ESA
- Lander Probe: Philae
- MESSENGER is studying Mercury. It is only the second probe to do so and will be the first to orbit the planet. Technologically, it is far superior to its 1975 predecessor, Mariner 10. Thus far passing Earth once, Venus twice and Mercury twice, it will complete three Mercurian flybys by 2009 and enter orbit in 2011.
- Launched: 4 August 2004 | Destination: Mercury | Arrival: 18 March 2011 | Institution: NASA
- New Horizons was the fastest artificially-accelerated object and will be the fifth probe to leave the solar system. It will be the first spacecraft to study Pluto, ultimately destined for the Kuiper Belt.
- Launched: 19 January 2006 | Destination: Pluto, Charon | Arrival: 2015 | Institution: NASA
- Launched: 27 September 2007 | Destination: Vesta, then Ceres | Vesta arrival: September 2011 | Institution: NASA
Mission in Progress
- Launched: 15 October 1997 | Destination: Saturn | Arrival: 1 July 2004 | Institution: NASA, ESA, ASI
- Lander Probe: Huygens [mission complete]
- Launched: 7 April 2001 | Destination: Mars | Arrival: 24 October 2001 | Institution: NASA
- Hayabusa failed at two important mission tasks: its landing probe did not deploy correctly, and it was unable to collect ground samples. Nonetheless, it is believed that the probe managed to collect a sampling of the dust around the asteroid, and it is currently on a return course to Earth.
- Launched: 9 May 2003 | Destination: 25143 Itokawa | Arrival: September, 2005 | Institution: JAXA
- Lander Probe: Minerva mini-lander [mission failed]
- Mars Express: Mars orbiter designed to study the planet's atmosphere and geology, search for sub-surface water, and deploy the Beagle lander. Mission now extended until May 2009.
- Launched: 2 June 2003 | Destination: Mars | Arrival: 25 December 2003 | Institution: ESA
- Lander: Beagle 2 [mission failed; contact lost at landing]
- Launched: 10 June 2003 | Destination: Mars | Arrival: 25 January 2004 | Institution: NASA
- LANDER: Spirit Rover, like its twin robot, was designed primarily for geologic analysis on the Martian surface. It has exceeded its primary mission length thirteen times over.
- Launched: 10 June 2003 | Destination: Mars | Arrival: 4 January 2004 | Institution: NASA
- Launched: 12 August 2005 | Destination: Mars | Arrival: 10 March 2006 | Institution: NASA
- Venus Express, modeled after the Mars Express, is currently undertaking its thousand-day mission to Venus. During this time, it will collect data on Venusian atmosphere and cloud conditions.
- Launched: 9 November 2005 | Destination: Venus | Arrival: 11 April 2006 | Institution: ESA
- Ulysses was sent to study the 'northern' and 'southern' polar regions of the sun. Gravity-assist from Jupiter hurled it over the lower extreme of our star; a second Jupiter loop sent it over the sun's upper reaches. Its mission has since been extended till 2008, shortly after which the probe will lose power.
- Launched: 6 October 1990 | Destination: Sun | Arrival: 1994 | Institution: ESA
- SELENE (Kaguya), a lunar orbiter and two small co-satellites, is designed to carry out mineralogical, geographical, magnetic field and gravitational observations.
- Launched: 14 September 2007 | Destination: Moon | Orbit insertion: 3 October 2007 | Institution: JAXA
- Launched: 24 October 2007 | Destination: Moon | Arrival: 5 November 2007 | Institution: China
New mission in progress
- Voyager 2 has not yet left the solar system, but will become one of the first five probes to do so eventually. Its mission to study all four gas giants was one of NASA's most successful, yielding a wealth of new information. It is currently some 80.5 AUs from the sun, and will continue to operate until at least 2020. As with Voyager 1, scientists are now using Voyager 2 to learn what the solar system is like beyond the heliosphere.
- Launched: 20 August 1977 | Destination: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune | Arrival: 9 July 1979 | Institution: NASA
- Mission Completion: August 1989 | Current Trajectory: bound for heliosheath
- Voyager 1 is currently the furthest man-made object from Earth at more than 9.5 billion miles (0.0016 light years) from the sun, and it will not be overtaken by any other craft. It was originally tasked with investigating Jupiter and Saturn, and the moons of these planets. Its continuing data feed offers the first direct measurements of the heliosheath and may eventually provide data on the heliopause. Voyager 1 shall continue operating until at least 2020.
- Launched: 5 September 1977 | Destination: Jupiter & Saturn | Arrival: January 1979 | Institution: NASA
- Mission Completion: November, 1980 | Current Trajectory: bound for heliopause
- Launched: 12 January 2005 | Destination: Tempel 1 | Arrival: 4 July 2005 | Institution: NASA
- Primary Mission Completion: 5 July 2005 | Current Trajectory: heliocentric orbit
- Stardust was designed to collect samples of comet coma and interstellar dust. After seven years in space, it rendezvoused with Earth in 2006, releasing a pod containing the samples. A mission extension is now underway, designated NExT, deploying the spacecraft to Tempel 1, the comet targeted by Deep Impact.
- Launched: 7 February 1999 | Destination: Wild 2 | Arrival: 2 January 2004 | Institution: NASA
- Primary Mission Completion: 15 January 2006 |
- (New mission) Destination: Tempel 1 | Arrival: 14 February 2011
New mission under consideration
- ISEE-3 is currently in a 355-day heliocentric orbit. Deactivated on 1997-05-05 leaving only a carrier signal, it was reactivated on 2008-09-18. NASA began considering using the spacecraft to obseve aditionnal comets in 2017 or 2018. No decision have been reached on the future use of the spacecraft. If no future uses are made, the spacecraft could be captured and given to the Smithsonian Institution in 2014. Reuse of the spacecraft would delay the possible capture to 2040s.
- Lauched: 12 August 1978 | Destination: L2 point | Arrival: ? | Institutions: NASA and ESA
- Mission Completion: 1982 | Current Trajectory: heliocentric orbit, 355-day period
No future missions projected
- Pioneer 6, launched in 1965, is the oldest functioning probe (if still operating). Contact was last attempted 8 December 2000 to celebrate its thirty-fifth anniversary, and the attempt was successful. Like the three craft which superseded it, it took measurements of the solar wind, solar magnetic field and cosmic rays.
- Launched: 16 December 1965 | Destination: heliocentric orbit | Institution: NASA
- Mission Completion: ? | Current Trajectory: heliocentric orbit
- Pioneer 7 was last contacted 31 March 1995; no attempt has been made since, and this probe may or may not be operational.
- Launched: 17 August 1966 | Destination: heliocentric orbit | Institution: NASA
- Mission Completion: ? | Current Trajectory: heliocentric orbit
- Pioneer 8 was last contacted in 22 August 1996; no attempt has been made since, and this probe may or may not be operational.
- Launched: 8 November 1967 | Destination: heliocentric orbit | Institution: NASA
- Mission Completion: ? | Current Trajectory: heliocentric orbit
- Giotto approached within 600 kilometers of Halley's Comet on its flyby mission, and survived some particulate impact on the inbound flight to capture scientific data and stunning images of the comet's nucleus. Its multicolor camera was subsequently destroyed, but the probe remained otherwise functional. Its mission completed, deactivation commands were transmitted on 15 March 1986. Awakened four years later on 2 July, it studied the comet Grigg-Skjellerup as it approached within 200 kilometers eight days later, and was again deactivated on the 23rd.
- Launched: 2 July 1985 | Destination: Comet Halley | Arrival: 14 March 1986 | Institution: ESA
- Mission Completion: 14 March 1986 | Current Trajectory: heliocentric orbit
- Genesis returned a capsule with a solar wind sample to Earth in 2004. The rest of the probe was put into a parking orbit near Earth's L2 point.
- Launched: 8 August 2001 | Destination: complex orbit | Arrival: ? | Institution: NASA
- Mission Completion: 2004 | Current Trajectory: heliocentric orbit near Earth L2 point
This includes all craft which are no longer able to transmit usable data to Earth, whether or not they can receive commands, but which are otherwise intact. Many of the earliest probes fall under this category, including probes from the Soviet Luna, Mars, Venera, and Zond programs, as well as the American Lunar Orbiter, Mariner, Ranger, Surveyor, and Viking programs.
For a full historical list of inactive probes, see List of Solar System probes.
Recalled / Destroyed Probes
This includes all craft which no longer exist in extraterrestrial space. They may have permanently returned to Earth or Earth-orbit, or been physically destroyed.
- Mars Climate Orbiter betrays its mission with its name. Along with it sister-probe, it was designed to study Martian weather and climate with a focus on water and carbon dioxide systems. Unfortunately, a programming error regarding metric versus imperial measurements caused the craft to enter too low an orbit, and it was destroyed by atmospheric stresses and friction.
- Launched: 11 December 1998 | Destination: Mars | Arrival: 23 September 1999 | Institution: NASA
- Destroyed: 23 September 1999 | Location: Mars | Cause: programming error
Returned to Earth
Lunar Orbiting Probes
- The unequal gravitational pulls from the nearby Earth and the Sun will in conjunction with the mascons decay any vehicle's Lunar orbit. When fuel is excausted they will sooner or later impact the Moon. As one last experiment the flight directors can decide where on the Moon the impact should occur. Unless it's a pure impact mission the Lunar orbiters are semi-deliberately destroyed.
- Pioneer Venus Orbiter, one of the earlier satellites to study venus, was equipped with seventeen types of instruments to investigate the Venusian surface and atmosphere. After circling the planet for thirteen years, it finally depleted its fuel supply and plummeted into the atmosphere.
- Launched: 20 May 1978 | Destination: Venus | Arrival: 4 December 1978 | Institution: NASA
- Destroyed: August, 1992 | Location: Venus
- Magellan, tasked with observing Venus from orbit, created the first and currently the best images of the Venusian surface at near-photographic quality. Its radar provided the complete geographic map of craters, hills, and ridges still used today. It was vaporized through rapid descent into the atmosphere, though it is thought that some pieces may have survived the fall and impacted on the planet’s surface.
- Launched: 4 May 1989 | Destination: Venus | Arrival: 10 August 1990 | Institution: NASA / CNES
- Destroyed: 12 October 1994 | Location: Venus
- Galileo was sent to investigate the Jovian system, particularly the ice-moon Europa. During its six-year journey, it conducted flybys of Venus and Earth and became the first probe to flyby an asteroid when it passed Gaspra and Ida. It also detected the first asteroid moon. Its mission completed, it was incinerated through rapid deorbit into Jupiter’s atmosphere to prevent potential contamination of Earth bacteria to alien worlds.
- Launched: 18 October 1989 | Destination: Jupiter | Arrival: 7 December 1995 | Institution: NASA
- Destroyed: 21 September 2003 | Location: Jupiter
- Probe: Galileo probe (mission completed, destroyed)
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Published - July 2009
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