For a comprehensive and up-to-date list of deep space craft, visit NASA's Solar System Exploration Missions page.
NOTE: This page is no longer maintained. I created this page as a result of a discussion with Larry Kellogg. I thought it was a neat idea, and I maintained it for quite a while afterwards, but it is nowadays superseded by far better resources.
Even as you read this, there are several man-made probes serving as our remote eyes throughout the Solar System. Some perform useful and valuable observations on a daily basis, such as the Solar and Heliocentric Observatory, monitoring the Sun 24 hours a day. Others are living relics from the dawn of space exploration, including the longest-living space probe ever made, NASA's Pioneer 6. Well, maybe this isn't exactly Arthur C. Clarke's vision of the year 2001, with a nuclear-powered manned spaceship en route towards Jupiter, but we are getting there... at least some of our faithful remote outposts are out there already, as a first step towards what I hope will be our eventual conquest of the Solar System and beyond.
These pages provide summary information on all "live" probes that operate away from the immediate vicinity of the Earth. In other words, probes that are either going somewhere, or are "looking up", not down.
Please note that this 'portal' is the result of the efforts of one person who's not in any way associated with the space agencies whose missions are featured here. One consequence is that the information is not always up-to-date. For instance, the 'Last reported contact' field contains information about the last contact I heard about (from an e-mail newsletter, a visit to the probe's Web site, etc.) and if it shows a date months in the past, that doesn't necessarily mean that the probe has not been heard from by its operators in the intervening time!
Return visitors may have noticed that the appearance of this page has changed. I believe the new format is more easily readable (no more tables twice as wide as your screen), and it also made it easier for me to switch to a database-driven version of this page.
Planetary probes have a specific mission: to explore the surface or vicinity of a planet in the Solar System. Not surprisingly, Mars remains the most popular target. Other deep space probes explore the Sun, other planets, or are on their way out of the Solar System.
The last Apollo landed on the Moon over 30 years ago, but our satellite has not been completely abandoned.
Probe Name Date of launch Current Location Mission description Last reported contact Current status Live telemetry Project home page Comments Chandrayaan-1 2008-10-22 Lunar orbit Lunar mapping 2009-08-28 Ceased operations due to star sensor failure Indian Space Agency Chang'e 2 2010-10-01 Lunar orbit Lunar exploration Daily Normal China National Space Administration Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite 2009-06-19 Elongated Earth orbit Lunar impact 2009-10-09 Destroyed by planned lunar impact NASA Ames Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter 2009-06-19 Lunar polar orbit Lunar survey Daily Normal NASA GSFC
Many deep space probes have been launched in recent years with a specific mission: to explore the Red Planet.
Probe Name Date of launch Current Location Mission description Last reported contact Current status Live telemetry Project home page Comments Mars Express 2003-06-02 Martian orbit Lander, orbiter Daily No contact with lander European Space Agency Mars Odyssey 2001-04-07 Martian orbit Mapping chemical elements Daily Normal NASA JPL Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter 2005-08-12 Martian orbit Mars exploration Daily Normal NASA JPL MER-A "Spirit" 2003-06-10 Gusev crater Mars exploration rover Daily Normal NASA JPL MER-B "Opportunity" 2003-07-07 Meridiani Planum Mars exploration rover Daily Normal NASA JPL Planet-B (Nozomi) 1998-07-04 Solar orbit Solar system observations 2003-12-09 Failed to achieve Martian orbit Japanese Space Agency Designed to orbit Mars; mission altered due to excessive propellant loss and equipment failure
Other Planetary Probes
Other planets are also targeted. Galileo recently finished its mission at Jupiter; Saturn is about to be investigated by Cassini, and hopefully, more probes will be under way in the near future.
Probe Name Date of launch Current Location Mission description Last reported contact Current status Live telemetry Project home page Comments Cassini 1997-10-15 Saturnian orbit Exploring the Saturn system Daily Normal NASA JPL Huygens probe landed successfully on Titan Messenger 2004-08-02 En route to Mercury Exploring Mercury Daily Normal Johns Hopkins University Venus Express 2005-11-09 In Venutian orbit Venus orbiter Daily Normal ESA
Other probes are studying the Solar System, or are on their way towards non-planetary targets. Some, like the early Pioneers, have long outlived their planned lifetimes but they just refuse to die; the engineering marvel called Pioneer 6 has been transmitting faithfully for over 35 years! (Design lifetime: 6 months.)
Probe Name Date of launch Current Location Mission description Last reported contact Current status Live telemetry Project home page Comments Dawn 2007-09-27 Solar orbit Investigate Ceres and Vesta Daily Normal NASA JPL Deep Impact / EPOXI 2005-01-12 Solar orbit Comet impact mission Daily Normal NASA JPL Impact mission completed; spacecraft remains in usable trajectory, pending proposals for further use. Muses-C (Hayabusa) 2003-09-05 on Earth Asteroid sample return 2010-06-14 Sample return capsule successfully recovered Japanese Space Agency Planet-C (Akatsuki) 2010-05-20 En route to Venus Venus exploration Daily Normal Japanese Space Agency Rosetta 2004-03-02 En route to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko Comet orbiter and lander Daily Normal European Space Agency Stardust 1999-02-07 Solar orbit Comet and interstellar dust collection 2006-01-30 Hibernation NASA JPL Successful sample return; spacecraft remains in orbit Ulysses 1990-10-06 Solar polar orbit Exploring the Sun's polar regions 2009-06-30 Ceased operations European Space Agency
Some of our live space probes are actually leaving the solar system. The two Voyagers and the two no longer functional Pioneers are all much farther from the Sun than Pluto, serving as our first messengers to the stars.
Probe Name Date of launch Current Location Mission description Last reported contact Current status Live telemetry Project home page Comments Voyager 1 1977-09-05 Outer solar system (~81 AU) Outer solar system exploration Daily Normal NASA JPL Voyager 2 1977-08-20 Outer solar system (~65 AU) Outer solar system exploration Daily Normal NASA JPL
Several space probes are presently in heliocentric "halo" orbits. Some are Sun-observing, while others are en route to non-planetary targets. Yet more observatories are Earth-orbiting satellites, but instead of looking back down on our planet, they are looking "up".
Observatories in Halo Orbits
Especially well suited for solar observation are orbital locations at the so-called Sun-Earth Lagrange points. Probes located near these positions remain at a fixed position relative to both the Earth and the Sun.
Probe Name Date of launch Current Location Mission description Last reported contact Current status Live telemetry Project home page Comments ACE 1997-08-25 Sun-Earth Lagrange point L1 Solar wind composition analysis Daily Normal California Institute of Technology Fermi 2008-06-11 L2 Lagrange Point Gamma ray astronomy Daily Normal NASA GSFC Herschel 2009-05-14 L2 Lagrange Point Infrared observatory Daily Normal European Space Agency Kepler 2009-03-07 Solar orbit Search for habitable planets Daily Normal NASA Ames Microwave Anisotropy Probe 2001-06-30 Sun-Earth Lagrange point L2 Mapping the microwave background Daily Normal NASA Goddard Planck 2009-05-14 L2 Lagrange Point Cosmic microwave background observations Daily Normal European Space Agency SOHO 1995-12-02 Sun-Earth Lagrange point L1 Continuous solar observation Daily High-gain antenna pointing anomaly NASA An amazing recovery occurred in 1998 WIND 1994-11-01 Sun-Earth Lagrange point L1 Solar wind observations Daily Normal Near Real-Time Data NASA Goddard WISE 2009-12-14 Earth polar orbit Infrared survey astronomy Daily Normal NASA JPL
The Hubble Space Telescope is certainly the best-known Earth-orbiting observatory, but it is definitely not the only one.
Probe Name Date of launch Current Location Mission description Last reported contact Current status Live telemetry Project home page Comments Astro-F 2006-02-22 Polar Earth orbit (745 km) Infrared astronomy Daily Normal Japanese Space Agency Chandra X-Ray Observatory 1999-07-23 Elliptical Earth orbit X-ray astronomy Daily Normal Harvard University COROT 2006-12-27 Earth polar orbit Extrasolar planetary observation Daily Normal Centre National D'études Spatiales Galaxy Evolution Explorer 2003-04-28 702km×690km Earth orbit (preliminary) Ultraviolet astronomy Daily Normal California Institute of Technology HETE-2 2000-10-09 625 km Earth orbit Gamma-Ray Burst observations Daily Normal Massachussets Institute of Technology Hubble Space Telescope 1990-04-25 Low Earth Orbit Optical astronomy Daily Normal Space Telescope Science Institute Integral 2002-10-17 Elliptical Earth orbit Gamma-ray astronomy Daily Normal European Space Agency MOST 2003-06-30 800km Earth orbit High-precision astornomy Daily Normal Canadian Space Agency MOST is a 60kg microsatellite launched by a Soviet ICBM booster PAMELA 2006-06-15 Elliptical Earth orbit Antimatter astronomy Daily Normal Italy - Russia A Payload for Antimatter Matter Exploration and Light-nuclei Astrophysics SIRTF 2003-08-25 Solar orbit Infrared astronomy Daily Normal California Institute of Technology Stereo 2006-10-25 Eccentric Earth (transfer) orbit Solar observations Daily Normal NASA GSFC Simultaneous observations of the Sun from two spacecraft SWAS 1998-12-09 Low Earth orbit Submillimeter-wave astronomy Daily Normal Harvard University Swift 2004-11-20 Low Earth orbit Gamma-Ray Burst observations Daily Normal NASA Goddard TRACE 1998-04-02 Sun-synchronous low Earth orbit Solar coronal observations Daily Normal Lockheed-Martin XMM-Newton 1999-12-10 Elliptical Earth orbit X-ray astronomy n/a Normal European Space Agency
Creation of this page was inspired by a discussion with Larry Kellogg, so perhaps he'll forgive me if I thank you the way he thanks readers of his space-related newsletter: Thanks for looking up.
accesses to this Web page since December 28, 2001.