Where are active spacecrafts now, and when will we hear back?
There are about 25 active space probes sending data to us from space — “active” meaning able to transmit data back to Earth.
Many of these probes are en route, meaning within several years we’ll be receiving more messages as the crafts reach their destinations.
Here is a timeline of recently arrived active space probes, and those en route:
January, May, & August 2014: Rosetta’s mapping and landing
When the Rosetta spacecraft awakened in January of 2014, a decade after its launch in February of 2004 (and after nearly three years in energy-saving hibernation), its mission was only just beginning.
In May of 2014, Rosetta arrived at Comet C-G near Jupiter’s orbit, and began to map the comet in August. The comet landed on the comet’s surface on November 12, 2014.
September & November, 2014: MAVEN and MOM make it to Mars
Two Mars space probes reached Mars in fall of 2014, including NASA’s MAVEN.
Launched on Nov. 18, 2013, the “Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN” arrived on Sept. 21, 2014, and is currently exploring the planet’s upper atmosphere.
India’s first interplanetary space probe, Mangalyaan, also known as MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) entered Mars’ orbit on September 23. MOM was launched on Nov. 5, 2013, and will explore surface features, mineralogy and Martian atmosphere.
February, 2015: Dawn’s arrival at dwarf planet Ceres
NASA’s Dawn space probe, launched in September of 2007, has since visited the asteroid Vesta (where it arrived in July 2011), and arrived at the dwarf planet Ceres in February of 2015.
Visiting these very different but similarly ancient celestial bodies will bring insight into the early formation and history of our solar system.
July, 2015: First time to Pluto by New Horizons
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, dispatched in 2006, reached its destination planet, Pluto, in July of 2015.
New Horizons is the first spacecraft to travel to Pluto, where it will study the solar system’s outer most edges; the historic arrival makes the US the first nation to send probes to all planets.
Already, New Horizons has delivered the first detailed photographs of the former planet.
July, 2016: NASA’s Juno tackles Jupiter
A historic first will also arrive at Jupiter in 2016 in the form of Juno, NASA’s mission to take orbit and study the solar system’s largest planet.
Launched in August 2011, the spacecraft is scheduled to take orbit in July 2016, where it will study the planet’s formation, atmosphere, and magnetosphere for an additional year.
Where in space are other active space probes located?
As the main image above illustrates, there are numerous probes located throughout out solar system already, with the previously mentioned crafts on their way. Currently, there are probes on or orbiting four planets, not including the sun and Earth’s moon. Below is a list of active spacecrafts, 19 in total (not including en route crafts), scattered throughout our solar system (with one already beyond it).
Sun study spacecrafts:
NASA’s Messenger, launched in 2004, arrived in 2011
- ESA’s Venus Express, launched in 2005, arrived in 2006.
- Japan’s Akatsuki, launched in 2010, failed to contact but will attempt again in 2015
- NASA’s Mars Odessey, 2001
- ESA’s Mars Express, 2003
- NASA’s MRO, 2006
- NASA’s Opportunity Rover, 2006 (lander)
- NASA’s Curiosity Rover, 2012 (lander)
ESA & NASA’s Cassini-Huygens mission, launched in 1997, arrived in 2004
Solar-system edges and interstellar space
- NASA’s Voyager 1, launched in 1977, is the first man-made object to leave the solar system, the furthest from Earth, and first in interstellar space. It’s hoped to operate until 2020.
- NASA’s Voyager 2, launched shortly after Voyager 1, is at the solar system’s edge poised to enter interstellar space and continue operating until 2020.