Sample-return mission

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The "Genesis Rock", returned by the Apollo 15 lunar mission in 1971. Apollo 15 Genesis Rock.jpg
The "Genesis Rock", returned by the Apollo 15 lunar mission in 1971.

A sample-return mission is a spacecraft mission with the goal of collecting and returning samples from an extraterrestrial location to Earth for analysis. Sample-return missions may bring back merely atoms and molecules or a deposit of complex compounds such as loose material ("soil") and rocks. These samples may be obtained in a number of ways, such as soil and rock excavation or a collector array used for capturing particles of solar wind or cometary debris.

Spacecraft manned vehicle or unmanned machine designed to fly in outer space

A spacecraft is a vehicle or machine designed to fly in outer space. Spacecraft are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, space colonization, planetary exploration, and transportation of humans and cargo. All spacecraft except single-stage-to-orbit vehicles cannot get into space on their own, and require a launch vehicle.


To date, samples of Moon rock from Earth's Moon have been collected by robotic and crewed missions, the comet Wild 2 and the asteroid 25143 Itokawa have been visited by a robotic spacecraft which returned samples to Earth, and samples of the solar wind have been returned by a robotic mission.

Moon rock

Moon rock or lunar rock is rock that is found on the Earth's moon including lunar material collected during the course of human exploration of the Moon, or rock that has been ejected naturally from the Moon's surface.

25143 Itokawa asteroid

25143 Itokawa (; Japanese: イトカワ,いとかわ,糸川 [itokaɰa]; provisional designation 1998 SF36) is a sub-kilometer near-Earth object of the Apollo group and a potentially hazardous asteroid. It was discovered by the LINEAR program in 1998 and later named after Japanese rocket engineer Hideo Itokawa. The strange peanut-shaped S-type asteroid has a rotation period of 12.1 hours and measures approximately 330 meters (1,100 feet) in diameter. Due to its low density and high porosity, Itokawa is considered to be a rubble pile, consisting of numerous boulders of different sizes rather than of a single solid body.

Solar wind

The solar wind is a stream of charged particles released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun, called the corona. This plasma consists of mostly electrons, protons and alpha particles with kinetic energy between 0.5 and 10 keV. Embedded within the solar-wind plasma is the interplanetary magnetic field. The solar wind varies in density, temperature and speed over time and over solar latitude and longitude. Its particles can escape the Sun's gravity because of their high energy resulting from the high temperature of the corona, which in turn is a result of the coronal magnetic field.

In addition to sample-return missions, samples from three identified non-terrestrial bodies have been collected by means other than sample-return missions: samples from the Moon in the form of Lunar meteorites, samples from Mars in the form of Martian meteorites, and samples from Vesta in the form of HED meteorites.

Lunar meteorite meteorite that originated from Earths Moon

A lunar meteorite is a meteorite that is known to have originated on the Moon. A meteorite hitting the Moon is normally classified as a transient lunar phenomenon.

Mars Fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and the second-smallest planet in the Solar System after Mercury. In English, Mars carries a name of the Roman god of war, and is often referred to as the "Red Planet" because the reddish iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance that is distinctive among the astronomical bodies visible to the naked eye. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere, having surface features reminiscent both of the impact craters of the Moon and the valleys, deserts, and polar ice caps of Earth.

Martian meteorite meteorite that originated from Mars

A Martian meteorite is a rock that formed on the planet Mars and was then ejected from Mars by the impact of an asteroid or comet, and finally landed on the Earth. Of over 61,000 meteorites that have been found on Earth, 224 were identified as Martian as of January 2019. These meteorites are thought to be from Mars because they have elemental and isotopic compositions that are similar to rocks and atmosphere gases analyzed by spacecraft on Mars. In October 2013, NASA confirmed, based on analysis of argon in the Martian atmosphere by the Mars Curiosity rover, that certain meteorites found on Earth thought to be from Mars were indeed from Mars.

Scientific use

A meteorite from Vesta that fell on Africa Bilanga meteorite, 4.3g slice.jpg
A meteorite from Vesta that fell on Africa

Samples available on Earth can be analyzed in laboratories, so we can further our understanding and knowledge as part of the discovery and exploration of the Solar System. Until now many important scientific discoveries about the Solar System were made remotely with telescopes, and some Solar System bodies were visited by orbiting or even landing spacecraft with instruments capable of remote sensing or sample analysis. While such an investigation of the Solar System is technically easier than a sample-return mission, the scientific tools available on Earth to study such samples are far more advanced and diverse than those that can go on spacecraft. Analysis of samples on Earth allows to follow up any findings with different tools, including tools that have yet to be developed; in contrast, a spacecraft can carry only a limited set of analytic tools, and these have to be chosen and built long before launch.

Laboratory facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific or technological research, experiments, and measurement may be performed.

A laboratory is a facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific or technological research, experiments, and measurement may be performed.

Discovery and exploration of the Solar System

Discovery and exploration of the Solar System is observation, visitation, and increase in knowledge and understanding of Earth's "cosmic neighborhood". This includes the Sun, Earth and the Moon, the major planets including Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, their satellites, as well as smaller bodies including comets, asteroids, and dust.

The Solar System — our Sun’s system of planets, moons, and smaller debris — is humankind’s cosmic backyard. Small by factors of millions compared to interstellar distances, the spaces between the planets are daunting, but technologically surmountable

Solar System planetary system of the Sun

The Solar System is the gravitationally bound planetary system of the Sun and the objects that orbit it, either directly or indirectly. Of the objects that orbit the Sun directly, the largest are the eight planets, with the remainder being smaller objects, such as the five dwarf planets and small Solar System bodies. Of the objects that orbit the Sun indirectly—the moons—two are larger than the smallest planet, Mercury.

Samples analyzed on Earth can be matched against findings of remote sensing, for more insight into the processes that formed the Solar System. This was done, for example, with findings by the Dawn spacecraft, which visited the asteroid Vesta from 2011 to 2012 for imaging, and samples from HED meteorites (collected on Earth until then), which were compared to data gathered by Dawn. [1] These meteorites could then be identified as material ejected from the large impact crater Rheasilvia on Vesta. This allowed deducing the composition of crust, mantle and core of Vesta. Similarly some differences in composition of asteroids (and, to a lesser extent, different compositions of comets) can be discerned by imaging alone. However, for a more precise inventory of the material on these different bodies, more samples will be collected and returned in the future, to match their compositions with the data gathered through telescopes and astronomical spectroscopy.

Formation and evolution of the Solar System Formation of the Solar System by gravitational collapse of a molecular cloud and subsequent geological history

The formation and evolution of the Solar System began 4.6 billion years ago with the gravitational collapse of a small part of a giant molecular cloud. Most of the collapsing mass collected in the center, forming the Sun, while the rest flattened into a protoplanetary disk out of which the planets, moons, asteroids, and other small Solar System bodies formed.

<i>Dawn</i> (spacecraft) NASA space probe exploring Vesta and Ceres

Dawn is a retired space probe launched by NASA in September 2007 with the mission of studying two of the three known protoplanets of the asteroid belt, Vesta and Ceres. It was retired on 1 November 2018 and it is currently in an uncontrolled orbit around its second target, the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn is the first spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial bodies, the first spacecraft to visit either Vesta or Ceres, and the first to visit a dwarf planet, arriving at Ceres in March 2015, a few months before New Horizons flew by Pluto in July 2015.

HED meteorite group of achondrites

HED meteorites are a clan (subgroup) of achondrite meteorites. HED stands for "howardite–eucrite–diogenite". These achondrites came from a differentiated parent body and experienced extensive igneous processing not much different from the magmatic rocks found on Earth and for this reason they closely resemble terrestrial igneous rocks.

One further focus of such investigation—besides the basic composition and geologic history of the various Solar System bodies—is the presence of the building blocks of life on comets, asteroids, Mars or the moons of the gas giants. Several sample-return missions to asteroids and comets are currently in the works. More samples from asteroids and comets will help determine whether life formed in space and was carried to Earth by meteorites. Another question under investigation is whether extraterrestrial life formed on other Solar System bodies like Mars or on the moons of the gas giants, and whether life might even exist there. The result of NASA's last "Decadal Survey" was to prioritize a Mars sample-return mission, as Mars has a special importance: it is comparatively "nearby", might have harbored life in the past, and might even continue to sustain life. Jupiter's moon Europa is another important focus in the search for life in the Solar System. However, due to the distance and other constraints, Europa might not be the target of a sample-return mission in the foreseeable future.

Historical geology or paleogeology is a discipline that uses the principles and techniques of geology to reconstruct and understand the geological history of Earth. It focuses on geologic processes that change the Earth's surface and subsurface; and the use of stratigraphy, structural geology and paleontology to tell the sequence of these events. It also focuses on the evolution of plants and animals during different time periods in the geological timescale. The discovery of radioactivity and the development of several radiometric dating techniques in the first half of the 20th century provided a means of deriving absolute versus relative ages of geologic history.

Organic compound Chemical compound that contains carbon (except for a several compounds traditionally classified as inorganic compounds)

In chemistry, an organic compound is generally any chemical compound that contains carbon. Due to carbon's ability to catenate, millions of organic compounds are known. Study of the properties and synthesis of organic compounds is the discipline known as organic chemistry. For historical reasons, a few classes of carbon-containing compounds, along with a handful of other exceptions, are not classified as organic compounds and are considered inorganic. No consensus exists among chemists on precisely which carbon-containing compounds are excluded, making the definition of an organic compound elusive. Although organic compounds make up only a small percentage of the Earth's crust, they are of central importance because all known life is based on organic compounds. Most synthetically produced organic compounds are ultimately derived from petrochemicals consisting mainly of hydrocarbons.

Gas giant Giant planet which mainly consists of light elements such as hydrogen and helium

A gas giant is a giant planet composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. Gas giants are sometimes known as failed stars because they contain the same basic elements as a star. Jupiter and Saturn are the gas giants of the Solar System. The term "gas giant" was originally synonymous with "giant planet", but in the 1990s it became known that Uranus and Neptune are really a distinct class of giant planet, being composed mainly of heavier volatile substances. For this reason, Uranus and Neptune are now often classified in the separate category of ice giants.

Planetary protection

Planetary protection aims to prevent biological contamination of both the target celestial body and the Earth—in the case of sample-return missions. No sample has yet been returned with alien life in it. A sample-return from Mars or other location with potential to host life, is a category V mission under COSPAR which directs to containment of any unsterilized sample returned to Earth. This is because it is unknown the effects of such hypothetical life would be on humans or on the biosphere of Earth. [2] For this reason, Carl Sagan and Joshua Lederberg argued in the 1970s that we should do sample-return missions classified as category V missions with extreme caution, and later studies by the NRC and ESF agreed. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]

Sample-return missions

First missions

Apollo 11 was the first mission to return extraterrestrial samples. Apollo 11 2004 scan.jpg
Apollo 11 was the first mission to return extraterrestrial samples.
Moon rock from Apollo 15 interpretive sign. Moon rock from Apollo 15 interpretive sign.jpg
Moon rock from Apollo 15 interpretive sign.
Moon rock from Apollo 15 at NASA Ames Visitor Center. Moon rock from Apollo 15 side.jpg
Moon rock from Apollo 15 at NASA Ames Visitor Center.

The Apollo program returned over 382 kg (842 lb) of lunar rock s and regolith (including lunar 'soil') to the Lunar Receiving Laboratory in Houston. [7] [8] [9] Today, 75% of the samples are stored at the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility built in 1979. [10] In July 1969, Apollo 11 achieved the first successful sample return from another Solar System body. It returned approximately 22 kilograms (49 lb) of Lunar surface material. This was followed by 34 kilograms (75 lb) of material from Apollo 12, 42.8 kilograms (94 lb) of material from Apollo 14, 76.7 kilograms (169 lb) of material from Apollo 15, 94.3 kilograms (208 lb) of material from Apollo 16, and 110.4 kilograms (243 lb) of material from Apollo 17.[ citation needed ]

One of the most significant advances in sample-return missions occurred in 1970 when the robotic Soviet mission known as Luna 16 successfully returned 101 grams (3.6 oz) of lunar soil. Likewise, Luna 20 returned 55 grams (1.9 oz) in 1974, and Luna 24 returned 170 grams (6.0 oz) in 1976. Although they recovered far less than the Apollo missions, they did this fully automatically. Apart from these three successes, other attempts under the Luna programme failed. The first two missions were intended to outstrip Apollo 11 and were undertaken shortly before them in June and July 1969: Luna E-8-5 No. 402 failed at start, and Luna 15 crashed on the Moon. Later, other sample-return missions failed: Kosmos 300 and Kosmos 305 in 1969, Luna E-8-5 No. 405 in 1970, Luna E-8-5M No. 412 in 1975 at unsuccessful launches, and Luna 18 in 1971 and Luna 23 in 1974 at unsuccessful landings on the Moon. [11]

In 1970, the Soviet Union planned for a 1975 first Martian sample-return mission in the Mars 5NM project. This mission was planned to use an N1 rocket, but as this rocket never flew successfully, the mission evolved into the Mars 5M project, which would use a double launch with the smaller Proton rocket and an assembly at a Salyut space station. This Mars 5M mission was planned for 1979, but got canceled in 1977 due to technical problems and complexity; all hardware was ordered destroyed. [12]

New missions after a 20-year hiatus

NASA has a long-term stratospheric flight program to collect cosmic dust. [13] [14] [15]

The 1984 LDEF mission returned chondritic and iron-nickel impactors, [16] as did the 1992 EURECA mission.

The Earth-Orbital Debris Collection (ODC) experiment was deployed on the Mir space station for 18 months during 1996–97 and used aerogel to capture particles from low Earth orbit, consisting of interplanetary dust and man-made particles. Far from being "the last sample-return mission... in... twenty years", ODC was a portable version of an LDEF collector, decreasing collection time significantly, and effective area by orders of magnitude.

An artist's rendering of Genesis collecting solar wind. GenSC collection2 150dpi.jpg
An artist's rendering of Genesis collecting solar wind.

The next mission to return extraterrestrial samples was the Genesis mission, which returned solar wind samples to Earth from beyond Earth orbit in 2004. Unfortunately, the Genesis capsule failed to open its parachute while re-entering the Earth's atmosphere and crash-landed in the Utah desert. There were fears of severe contamination or even total mission loss, but scientists managed to save many of the samples. They were the first to be collected from beyond lunar orbit. Genesis used a collector array made of wafers of ultra-pure silicon, gold, sapphire, and diamond. Each different wafer was used to collect a different part of the solar wind.[ citation needed ]

Sample-return capsule from the Stardust mission Stardust Capsule on Ground.jpg
Sample-return capsule from the Stardust mission

Genesis was followed by NASA's Stardust spacecraft, which returned comet samples to Earth on January 15, 2006. It safely passed by Comet Wild 2 and collected dust samples from the comet's coma while imaging the comet's nucleus. Stardust used a collector array made of low-density aerogel (99% of which is empty space), which has about 1/1000 of the density of glass. This permits the ability to collect the cometary particles without damaging them due to high impact velocities. Particle collisions with even slightly porous solid collectors would result in destruction of those particles and damage to the collection apparatus. During cruise, the second side of the array collected at least seven interstellar dust particles. [17]

In June 2010 the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa probe returned asteroid samples to Earth after a rendezvous with (and a landing on) S-type asteroid 25143 Itokawa. In November 2010, scientists at the agency confirmed that, despite failure of the sampling device, the probe retrieved micrograms of dust from the asteroid, the first brought back to Earth in pristine condition. [18]

The Russian Fobos-Grunt was a failed sample-return mission designed to return samples from Phobos, one of the moons of Mars. It was launched on November 8, 2011, but failed to leave Earth orbit and crashed after several weeks into the southern Pacific Ocean. [19] [20]

Illustration of OSIRIS-REx collecting a sample from asteroid 1999 RQ36 OSIRIS-REx artist rendetion.jpg
Illustration of OSIRIS-REx collecting a sample from asteroid 1999 RQ36

Current missions

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched the improved Hayabusa2 space probe on December 3, 2014 and plans to return asteroid samples by 2020. Hayabusa2 arrived at the target asteroid C-type asteroid 162173 Ryugu (formerly designated 1999 JU3) on 27 June 2018. [21] It is expected to survey the asteroid, which is a near-Earth asteroid, for a year and a half during which time it will collect samples multiple times, depart in December 2019, and return the samples to Earth in December 2020. [22] [ needs update ]

The OSIRIS-REx mission was launched in September 2016 on a mission to return samples from the asteroid 101955 Bennu. [23] [24] The samples are expected to enable scientists to learn more about the time before the birth of the Solar System, initial stages of planet formation, and the source of organic compounds that led to the formation of life. [25] The sample will be collected with the TAGSAM, a robotic arm with a specialized collector head that will deposit the sample into an Earth return capsule. [26]

Future missions

Ascent vehicle in its protective shroud, 2009 ESA-NASA design. Mars-sample-return-Mars-ascent-vehicule.jpg
Ascent vehicle in its protective shroud, 2009 ESA-NASA design.

JAXA is developing the MMX mission, a sample-return mission to Phobos that will be launched in 2024. [28] Of the two moons, Phobos's orbit is closer to Mars and its surface may have adhered particles blasted from the red planet; thus the Phobos samples collected by MMX may contain material originating from Mars itself. [29]

NASA has long planned a Martian sample-return mission, but has yet to secure the budget to successfully design, build, launch, and land such a probe. The mission remained on NASA's roadmap for planetary science as of the 2013 Planetary Science Decadal Survey. [30]

China has plans for a Mars sample return mission by 2030. [31] [32] Also, the Chinese Space Agency is designing a sample-retrieval mission from Ceres that would take place during the 2020s. [33]

China is planning to conduct a Chang'e 5 lunar sample return around 2019. If successful, it would mark the first lunar sample return in over 40 years. Russia has plans for Luna-Grunt mission to return samples from the Moon by 2021 and Mars-Grunt to return samples from Mars 5–10 years later. Also, Russia plans to repeat the Fobos-Grunt mission near 2024.

Comet sample-return missions [34] continue to be a NASA priority. Comet Surface Sample Return was one of the six themes for proposals for NASA's fourth New Frontiers mission, and on 20 December 2017 the CAESAR (Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return) mission to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko was announced as one of the two finalists. [35]

Methods of sample return

A Genesis collector array consisting of a grid of ultra-pure wafers of silicon, gold, sapphire, and diamond Genesis Collector Array.jpg
A Genesis collector array consisting of a grid of ultra-pure wafers of silicon, gold, sapphire, and diamond

Sample-return methods include, but are not restricted to the following:

Collector array

A collector array may be used to collect millions or billions of atoms, molecules, and fine particulates by using a number of wafers made of different elements. The molecular structure of these wafers allows the collection of various sizes of particles. Collector arrays, such as those flown on Genesis, are ultra-pure in order to ensure maximal collection efficiency, durability, and analytical distinguishability.

Collector arrays are useful for collecting tiny, fast-moving atoms such as those expelled by the Sun through the solar wind, but can also be used for collection of larger particles such as those found in the coma of a comet. The NASA spacecraft known as Stardust implemented this technique. However, due to the high speeds and size of the particles that make up the coma and the area nearby, a dense solid-state collector array was not viable. As a result, another means for collecting samples had to be designed as to preserve the safety of the spacecraft and the samples themselves.


A particle captured in aerogel Meteoroid track through aerogel from EURECA mission.jpg
A particle captured in aerogel

Aerogel is a silica-based porous solid with a sponge-like structure, 99.8% of whose volume is empty space. Aerogel has about 1/1000 of the density of glass. An aerogel was used in the Stardust spacecraft because the dust particles the spacecraft was to collect would have an impact speed of about 6 km/s. [36] A collision with a dense solid at that speed could alter their chemical composition or perhaps vaporize them completely.

Since the aerogel is mostly transparent, and the particles leave a carrot-shaped path once they penetrate the surface, scientists can easily find and retrieve them. Since its pores are on the nanometer scale, particles, even ones smaller than a grain of sand, do not merely pass through the aerogel completely. Instead, they slow to a stop and then are embedded within it.

The Stardust spacecraft has a tennis-racket-shaped collector with aerogel fitted to it. The collector is retracted into its capsule for safe storage and delivery back to Earth. Aerogel is quite strong and easily survives both launching and outer-space environments.

Robotic excavation and return

Some of the most risky and difficult types of sample-return missions are those that require landing on an extraterrestrial body such as an asteroid, moon, or planet. It takes a great deal of time, money, and technical ability in order to even initiate such plans. It is a difficult feat that requires that everything from launch to landing to retrieval and launch back to Earth is planned out with high precision and accuracy.

This type of sample return, although having the most risks, is the most rewarding for planetary science. Furthermore, such missions carry a great deal of public outreach potential, which is an important attribute for space exploration when it comes to public support. The only successful robotic sample-return missions of this type have been the Soviet Luna landers.[ citation needed ]

List of missions

Crewed missions

Launch dateOperatorNameSample originSamples returnedRecovery dateMission result
16 July 1969Flag of the United States.svg  United States Apollo 11 Moon 22 kilograms (49 lb)24 July 1969Successful
14 November 1969 Flag of the United States.svg United States Apollo 12 Moon34 kilograms (75 lb)24 November 1969Successful
11 April 1970 Flag of the United States.svg United States Apollo 13 Moon17 April 1970Failed
31 January 1971 Flag of the United States.svg United States Apollo 14 Moon43 kilograms (95 lb)9 February 1971Successful
26 July 1971 Flag of the United States.svg United States Apollo 15 Moon77 kilograms (170 lb)7 August 1971Successful
16 April 1972 Flag of the United States.svg United States Apollo 16 Moon95 kilograms (209 lb)27 April 1972Successful
7 December 1972 Flag of the United States.svg United States Apollo 17 Moon111 kilograms (245 lb)19 December 1972Successful
22 March 1996 Flag of the United States.svg United States /
Flag of Russia.svg  Russia
Earth-Orbital Debris Collection Low Earth orbit Particles6 October 1997Successful [37]
14 April 2015Flag of Japan.svg  Japan  /
Flag of the United States.svg United States
Tanpopo mission Low Earth orbit ParticlesFebruary 2018 [38] Successful

Robotic missions

Launch dateOperatorNameSample originSamples returnedRecovery dateMission result
14 June 1969Flag of the Soviet Union.svg  Soviet Union Luna E-8-5 No. 402 Moon
13 July 1969 Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union Luna 15 Moon
23 September 1969 Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union Kosmos 300 Moon
22 October 1969 Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union Kosmos 305 Moon
6 February 1970 [11] Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union Luna E-8-5 No. 405 Moon
12 September 1970 Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union Luna 16 Moon101 grams (3.6 oz)24 September 1970Success
2 September 1971 Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union Luna 18 Moon
14 February 1972 Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union Luna 20 Moon55 grams (1.9 oz)25 February 1972Success
2 November 1974 Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union Luna 23 Moon
16 October 1975 Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union Luna E-8-5M No. 412 Moon
9 August 1976 Flag of the Soviet Union.svg Soviet Union Luna 24 Moon170 grams (6.0 oz)22 August 1976Success
7 February 1999 Flag of the United States.svg United States Stardust 81P/Wild Particles15 January 2006Success
8 August 2001 Flag of the United States.svg United States Genesis Solar wind Particles9 September 2004Success (partial)
9 May 2003Flag of Japan.svg  Japan Hayabusa 25143 Itokawa Particles13 June 2010Success (partial)
8 November 2011Flag of Russia.svg  Russia Fobos-Grunt Phobos
3 December 2014 Flag of Japan.svg Japan Hayabusa 2 162173 Ryugu
December 2020Ongoing
8 September 2016 Flag of the United States.svg United States OSIRIS-REx 101955 Bennu
December 2019Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China Chang'e 5 Moon
2020Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China Chang'e 6 Moon
2024 Flag of Japan.svg Japan MMX Phobos

See also

Related Research Articles

Timeline of Solar System exploration

This is a timeline of Solar System exploration ordered by date of spacecraft launch. It includes:

Unmanned spacecraft spacecraft without people on board

Unmanned or uncrewedspacecraft are spacecraft without people on board, used for unmanned spaceflight. Uncrewed spacecraft may have varying levels of autonomy from human input; they may be remote controlled, remote guided or even autonomous, meaning they have a pre-programmed list of operations, which they will execute unless otherwise instructed. Many habitable spacecraft also have varying levels of robotic features. For example, the space stations Salyut 7 and Mir, and the ISS module Zarya were capable of remote guided station-keeping, and docking maneuvers with both resupply craft and new modules. The most common uncrewed spacecraft categories are robotic spacecraft, uncrewed resupply spacecraft, space probes and space observatories. Not every uncrewed spacecraft is a robotic spacecraft; for example, a reflector ball is a non-robotic uncrewed spacecraft.

Lander (spacecraft) spacecraft which descends toward and comes to rest on the surface of an astronomical body

A lander is a spacecraft which descends toward and comes to rest on the surface of an astronomical body. By contrast with an impact probe, which makes a hard landing and is damaged or destroyed so ceases to function after reaching the surface, a lander makes a soft landing after which the probe remains functional.

<i>Stardust</i> (spacecraft) space probe launched by NASA in 1999

Stardust was a 390 kilogram robotic space probe launched by NASA on 7 February 1999. Its primary mission was to collect dust samples from the coma of comet Wild 2, as well as samples of cosmic dust, and return these to Earth for analysis. It was the first sample return mission of its kind. En route to comet Wild 2, the craft also flew by and studied the asteroid 5535 Annefrank. The primary mission was successfully completed on 15 January 2006, when the sample return capsule returned to Earth.

Discovery Program NASAs space exploration missions

NASA's Discovery Program is a series of lower-cost, highly focused American scientific space missions that are exploring the Solar System. It was founded in 1992 to implement then-NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin's vision of "faster, better, cheaper" planetary missions. Discovery missions differ from traditional NASA missions where targets and objectives are pre-specified. Instead, these cost-capped missions are proposed and led by a scientist called the Principal Investigator (PI). Proposing teams may include people from industry, small businesses, government laboratories, and universities. Proposals are selected through a competitive peer review process. All of the completed Discovery missions are accomplishing ground-breaking science and adding significantly to the body of knowledge about the Solar System.

<i>Hayabusa</i> Japanese unmanned spacecraft

Hayabusa was a robotic spacecraft developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to return a sample of material from a small near-Earth asteroid named 25143 Itokawa to Earth for further analysis. Hayabusa, formerly known as MUSES-C for Mu Space Engineering Spacecraft C, was launched on 9 May 2003 and rendezvoused with Itokawa in mid-September 2005. After arriving at Itokawa, Hayabusa studied the asteroid's shape, spin, topography, colour, composition, density, and history. In November 2005, it landed on the asteroid and collected samples in the form of tiny grains of asteroidal material, which were returned to Earth aboard the spacecraft on 13 June 2010.

The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) is a scientific research institute dedicated to study of the solar system, its formation, evolution, and current state. The Institute is part of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and is supported by the Science Mission Directorate of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Located at 3600 Bay Area Boulevard in Houston, Texas, the LPI maintains an extensive collection of lunar and planetary data, carries out education and public outreach programs, and offers meeting coordination and publishing services. The LPI sponsors and organizes several workshops and conferences throughout the year, including the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) held in March in the Houston area.

Outline of space exploration

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to space exploration:

Space probe unmanned robotic spacecraft that does not orbit the Earth, but, instead, explores further into outer space

A space probe is a robotic spacecraft that does not orbit Earth, but instead, explores further into outer space. A space probe may approach the Moon; travel through interplanetary space; flyby, orbit, or land on other planetary bodies; or enter interstellar space.

Hayabusa Mk2 was a proposed Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) space mission aimed at visiting a small primitive asteroid and returning a sample to Earth for laboratory analysis. It was intended to be the follow-on mission to JAXA's Hayabusa mission, as well as the Hayabusa 2 mission. The latest proposal for Hayabusa Mk2 stated its target to be the dormant comet 4015 Wilson–Harrington, with a launch of the probe in 2018. From 2007 to 2010, it was also considered as a joint JAXA-ESA mission under the name Marco Polo. The in-situ investigation and sample analysis would allow scientists to improve our knowledge of the physical and chemical properties of a small Near-Earth Object (NEO) which is thought to have kept the original composition of the solar nebula in which planet formed. Thus, it would provide some constraints to the models of planet formation and some information on how life may have been brought to Earth. Information on the physical structure will help defining efficient mitigation strategies against a potential threatening object.

Near-Earth Asteroid Scout

The Near-Earth Asteroid Scout is a planned mission by NASA to develop a controllable low-cost CubeSat solar sail spacecraft capable of encountering near-Earth asteroids (NEA). The NEA Scout will be one of 13 CubeSats to be carried with the Orion EM-1 mission into a heliocentric orbit in cis-lunar space on the maiden flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) scheduled to launch in 2020. The most likely target for the mission is 1991 VG, but this may change based on launch date or other factors. After deployment in cislunar space, NEA Scout will perform a series of lunar flybys to achieve optimum departure trajectory before beginning its two-year-long cruise.

DESTINY+ (Demonstration and Experiment of Space Technology for INterplanetary voYage Phaethon fLyby dUSt science) is a planned mission to flyby the meteor shower parent body 3200 Phaethon, as well as various minor bodies originating from the "rock comet". The spacecraft is being developed by the Japanese space agency JAXA, and will demonstrate advanced technologies for future deep space exploration. As of 2017, DESTINY+ is planned to be launched in 2022.

EQUULEUS is a nanosatellite of the 6-Unit CubeSat format that will measure the distribution of plasma that surrounds the Earth (plasmasphere) to help scientists understand the radiation environment in that region. It will also demonstrate low-thrust trajectory control techniques, such as multiple lunar flybys, within the Earth-Moon region using water steam as propellant. The spacecraft was designed and developed jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tokyo.

Martian Moons Exploration Japanese space mission for the exploration of Mars and its moons

The Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) is a robotic space probe set for launch in 2024 to bring back the first samples from Mars' largest moon Phobos. Developed by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and announced in 9 June 2015, MMX will land and collect samples from Phobos once or twice, along with conducting Deimos flyby observations and monitoring Mars' climate.

<i>CAESAR</i> (spacecraft)

CAESAR is a proposed sample-return mission to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The mission was proposed in 2017 to NASA's New Frontiers program mission 4, and on 20 December 2017 it was one of two finalists selected for further concept development.

The Extraterrestrial Sample Curation Center (ESCuC) is the facility where Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) conducts the curation works of extraterrestrial materials retrieved by some sample-return missions. They work closely with Japan's Astromaterials Science Research Group. Its objectives include documentation, preservation, preparation, and distribution of samples. All samples collected are made available for international distribution upon request.

Extraterrestrial sample curation

The curation of extraterrestrial samples (astromaterials) obtained by sample-return missions take place at facilities specially designed to preserve both the sample integrity and protect the Earth. Astromaterials are classified as either non-restricted or restricted, depending on the nature of the Solar System body. Non-restricted samples include the Moon, asteroids, comets, solar particles and space dust. Restricted bodies include planets or moons suspected to have either past or present habitable environments to microscopic life, and therefore must be treated as extremely biohazardous.


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