Formerly known as the Venus Climate Orbiter (VCO) and Planet-C, “Akatsuki” (meaning “dawn” in Japanese) is a Japanese unmanned spacecraft which was intended to explore Venus. It was launched aboard an H-IIA 202 rocket on 20 May 2010. The mission reached Venus on 7 December 2010 (JST) but failed to enter orbit around the planet. It had been intended to conduct scientific research for two or more years from an elliptical orbit ranging from 300 km to 80,000 km from Venus.

The Venus mission follows Japan’s first lunar probe, which completed a 19-month mission last year. The lunar project was to create a detailed map of the moon’s surface and examine its mineral distribution. Japan launched its first satellite in 1970 and has achieved several major scientific coups in space, including the launch of a probe that made a rendezvous with an asteroid.


Cassini-Huygens is a space mission currently studying the planet Saturn and its many natural satellites, including Titan and Enceladus.

The spacecraft consists of two main elements:

  • the Cassini orbiter and
  • the Huygens probe.

It was launched in 1997 and entered into orbit around Saturn in 2004. Huygens probe was separated from the orbiter and reached Saturn’s moon Titan in January 2005 when it made a descent into Titan’s atmosphere, and downwards to the surface, radioing scientific information back to the Earth by telemetry. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer solar system. The Cassini- Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.

The Cassini spacecraft is currently orbiting Saturn. The primary mission for Cassini ended in July 2008. However, given the good condition of the orbiter, the mission was extended until 2017. In 2017, an encounter with Titan will change its orbit in such a way that, at closest approach to Saturn, it will enter Saturn’s atmosphere and burn up. Its most recently flyby was of the Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Earlier a flyby of another moon Enceladus has given clues about the existence of ammonia in a water-rich plume emanating from the moon’s south polar region.


The Juno Mission is a space mission of NASA, to the planet Jupiter. The Juno spacecraft will be placed in a polar orbit to study the planet’s composition, gravity field, magnetic field, and polar magnetosphere. Juno will also search for clues about how Jupiter formed, including whether the planet has a rocky core, the amount of water present within the deep atmosphere, and how the mass is distributed within the planet. Juno will also study Jupiter’s deep winds, which can reach speeds of 600 km/h.

It was originally scheduled for a June 2009 launch. However, NASA budgetary restrictions resulted in Juno being re-scheduled to an August 2011 launch. Juno was launched from the Kennedy Space Centre on August 5, 2011.

The Juno mission is a part of the New Frontiers Program. The New Frontiers program is a series of space exploration missions being conducted by NASA with the purpose of researching several of the Sun’s planets including Jupiter, Venus, and the dwarf planet Pluto. It is a spin-off of the highly successful Discovery Program (that includes the Mars Pathfinder, Deep Impact and the Moon Mineralogy Mapper missions). There are two current missions, the Juno Mission and the New Horizons mission which launched on January 19, 2006. New Horizons is a NASA robotic spacecraft mission currently en route to the dwarf planet Pluto, expected to be the first spacecraft to fly by and study Pluto and its moons, Charon, Nix, and Hydra.


Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), also called Curiosity, is a Mars rover launched by NASA. It is currently en route to the planet, scheduled to land in Gale Crater in August 2012. Its objectives include searching for past or present life, studying the Martian climate, studying Martian geology, and collecting data for a future manned mission to Mars. The Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort for the robotic exploration of Mars. The entire spacecraft weighs 3,893 kg at launch.


  • Unlike its two most recent rover predecessors – Spirit and Opportunity – Curiosity is powered not by sunlight, but by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator.
  • It is about five times larger than the Spirit or Opportunity Mars exploration rovers and carries over ten times the mass of scientific instruments.
  • It will attempt a more precise landing than previous rovers, within an area of 20 km diameter, in the Aeolis Palus region of Gale Crater.


The MSL mission has four scientific goals:

  1. Determine whether Mars could ever have supported life
  2. Study the climate of Mars
  3. Study the geology of Mars
  4. Plan for a human mission to Mars

To contribute to these goals, MSL has six main scientific objectives:

  1. Determine the mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and near-surface geological materials.
  2. Attempt to detect chemical building blocks of life (biosignatures).
  3. Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils.
  4. Assess long-timescale (i.e. 4-billion-year) Martian atmospheric evolution processes.
  5. Determine the present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide.
  6. Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic radiation, cosmic radiation, solar proton events and secondary neutrons.


Curiosity was launched by NASA on 26th November 2011 by Atlas V rocket.


Phobos-Grunt, sometimes also spelled as Fobos-Grunt, was an attempted Russian sample return mission to Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. Phobos-Grunt also carried the Chinese Mars orbiter Yinghuo-1 and the tiny Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment funded by the Planetary Society.


It was launched on 9th November 2011 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, but subsequent rocket burns intended to set the craft on a course for Mars failed, leaving it stranded in low Earth orbit. Efforts to reactivate the craft were unsuccessful, and it fell back to Earth in an uncontrolled re-entry on 15th January/ 2012, reportedly over Pacific Ocean west of Chile. The return vehicle, carrying up to 200 g of soil from Phobos, had to return to Earth in August 2014.


Phobos-Grunt was an intended interplanetary probe that included a lander to study Phobos and a sample return vehicle to return a sample of about 200 g of soil to Earth. It was also to study Mars from orbit, including its atmosphere and dust storms, plasma and radiation.


  1. Delivery of samples of Phobos soil to Earth for scientific research of Phobos, Mars and Martian vicinity;
  2. In situ and remote studies of Phobos (to include analysis of soil samples);
  3. Monitoring the atmospheric behaviour of Mars, including the dynamics of dust storms;
  4. Studies of the vicinity of Mars, including its radiation environment, plasma and dust;
  5. Study of the origin of the Marxian
  6. Study of the role played by asteroid impacts in the formation of terrestrial
  7. Search for possible past or present life (biosignatures);
  8. Study of the impact of a three year interplanetary round-trip journey to extremophile microorganisms in a small sealed capsule (LIFE experiment)


  • The main cause of the disaster was computer failure due to heavy particle bombardment.
  • Another probable reason stated was the use of integral parts that were not designed to be used in space.


In January 2012, scientists and engineers at the Russian Space Research Institute and NPO Lavochkin called for a repeat sample return mission called Phobos-Grunt-2 for launch in 2018 or 2020 which was acknowledged in April 2012 by Roscosmos. It was declared that soon an attempt would be made to repeat the Phobos-Grunt mission, if an agreement was not reached for Russian cooperation in the European Space Agency’s ExoMars program. However, since an agreement was reached for the inclusion of Russia as a full project partner, some instruments originally developed for Phobos-Grunt would be flown in ExoMars. Russia’s financing of ExoMars could be partially covered by insurance payments of 1.2 billion rubles ($40.7 million USD) for the loss of Phobos-Grunt, and reassigning funds for a possible coordination between Mars-NET and ExoMars project.


STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) is a solar observation mission intended to study solar phenomena, such as coronal mass ejections and perform 3-D imaging of the Sun. The two STEREO spacecraft were launched in 2006. The two nearly identical STEREO spacecraft that once in space, they will split up to observe the Sun from different angles, capturing images in 3-D. People gauge depth in the same way, using a slightly different perspective from each eye. This is called stereoscopic imaging.

The combined observations from these two spacecraft allow the researchers to monitor the trajectory of eruptions of charged particles from the Sun, called coronal mass ejections (CMEs). If they are on a collision course with the Earth, they can endanger space-walking astronauts, damage spacecraft and disrupt power grids, electronic devices and communication systems on the ground. Each spacecraft also carries a beacon that will transmit data in real-time to project scientists and researchers. Eventually, this data will be used to forecast space weather.


Chang’e2 is a Chinese un-manned lunar probe that was launched on 1 October 2010. It is a follow- on to the Chang’e1 lunar probe launched in 2007 and is part of the first phase of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. The probe will conduct research at a 100 km high lunar orbit as a preparation for a soft landing by Chang’e3. Chang’e2 is similar to Chang’e1 with some improvements, including a better camera with a resolution of one meter. It is named after a Chinese goddess of the moon.


Chang’e 3 is a Chinese lunar lander and rover scheduled for launch in 2013. It will be China’s first lunar rover, part of the second phase of the Chinese lunar exploration program undertaken by the China National Space Administration (CNSA). The six-wheeled rover has been under development since 2002 at the Shanghai Aerospace System Engineering Institute, where a specialized testing laboratory has been outfitted to replicate the lunar surface. With assembly completed by May 2010, it is designed to transmit video in real time and dig and analyze soil samples. The rover can navigate inclines and has automatic sensors to prevent it from crashing into other objects.

ARTEMIS (Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun)


The Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) mission was originally a constellation of five NASA satellites (THEMIS A, THEMIS B, THEMIS C, THEMIS D and THEMIS E) to study energy releases from Earth’s magnetosphere known as substorms, magnetic phenomena that intensify auroras near Earth’s poles.

Now, three of the original satellites remain in the magnetosphere, while two have been moved into orbit near the Moon. Those two have been renamed ARTEMIS (Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun). They are also called ARTEMIS P1 (THEMIS B) and ARTEMIS P2 (THEMIS C).

ARTEMIS P1: On 22nd June 2011, ARTEMIS P1 began firing its thrusters to move out of its kidney-shaped “libration” orbit on one side of the moon, where was since January. Three successive maneuvers were used to kick the spacecraft out of its orbit and send it on a trajectory toward the moon. It continued on that path until June 27 at 10:04 a.m. EDT when the spacecraft was about 2,400 miles from the moon. At that point, flight engineers at UC Berkeley issued the first commands to move it into orbit around the moon. Two more maneuvers helped fine-tune the position, and as of 12:30 p.m. EDT, ARTEMIS P1 is now in lunar orbit. This is the culmination of a complex, two-year journey that relied predominantly on gravity boosts and used minimal fuel.

ARTEMIS P2: The ARTEMIS P2 spacecraft was successfully inserted into lunar orbit at 8:24 PM ET on 17th July 2011. The insertion process took 3 hours and 20 minutes and was overseen by flight engineers from NASA Goddard, UC Berkeley, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Over the next 3 months a series of period reduction manoeuvres will move the spacecraft into an orbit of 27.5 hours, similar to the P1 orbit but moving in the opposite direction.

PRESENT CONDITION: The two ARTEMIS spacecraft are healthy and are expected to continue to return science data for several years. The satellites will fly close to the lunar surface once per orbit – approaching anywhere from within 12 to 240 miles of the surface depending on the iteration – in a belt ranging 20 degrees above and below the equator.

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