Space Exploration Missions

NASA, the world's space agencies, and other groups explore our solar system and beyond with space missions. Our guides teach you why these missions matter and how to get involved. For weekly space news and tools to advance space science and exploration, sign up our weekly newsletter The Downlink.

In Progress

  • Launched in 2020, the ESA-led Solar Orbiter mission is imaging the Sun and huge swaths of its corona up close for the first time.
  • Launched in 2018, NASA's Parker Solar Probe is studying the Sun’s atmosphere by being in it, the closest any spacecraft has ever ventured.
  • Since 2010, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) has been comprehensively mapping the Sun’s active regions to understand how solar flares develop and erupt.
  • Since 2006, NASA's STEREO-A spacecraft has been providing us insights on solar eruptions.
  • The ESA-NASA SOHO spacecraft has been observing the Sun since 1995, particularly using its coronagraph to block sunlight in order to better see the corona and track solar eruptions.

Coming Soon

  • India’s Aditya-L1 and ESA's Proba-3 solar observatories launch in 2023 to study the Sun's corona in particular.
  • Europe and Japan's BepiColombo launched in 2018 and arrives at Mercury in 2025.

Every mission to Mercury ever

A comprehensive look at all the missions to Mercury, past and present.

In Progress

  • Japan's Akatsuki studies the planet's dynamic atmosphere.

Coming Soon

  • NASA's DAVINCI, launching no earlier than 2029, will explore Venus' atmosphere and mysterious geological features.
  • NASA's VERITAS, launching no earlier than 2027, will map out Venus' topography.
  • ESA's EnVision will launch no earlier than 2031 to investigate the atmosphere and overall structure.
  • India aims to launch a Venus orbiter called Shukrayaan in December 2024 equipped with its own and international instruments to map the surface.

Every mission to Venus ever

All the past and present missions to Venus, a planet that may have once resembled Earth.

In Progress

  • The International Space Station prepares astronauts for deep space missions.
  • The Planetary Society's LightSail 2 launched in 2019 and demonstrates controlled solar sailing in Earth orbit.
  • NASA repurposed NEOWISE in 2013 to hunt for dangerous asteroids, but the aging spacecraft needs a successor.
  • China's Tianhe module launched in 2021 to form the core of a new space station in Earth orbit.

Coming Soon

  • NASA's ACS3 is a solar sail spacecraft launching to Earth orbit no earlier than 2023.
  • NASA's Solar Cruiser launches in 2025 and will use a large solar sail to create an artificial orbit between the Earth and Sun.
  • NASA's NEO Surveyor launches as soon as 2026 to find 90% of asteroids large enough to destroy a city.

In Progress

  • Danuri, also known as the Korean Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, is South Korea's first Moon mission. It launched in August 2022.
  • NASA's CAPSTONE spacecraft launched in July 2022 to explore the fuel-saving lunar orbit that the Gateway space station will use later this decade.
  • China's Chang'e-5 returned lunar samples to Earth in 2020, and is on an extended mission testing an advanced lunar orbit.
  • India's Chandrayaan-2 orbiter maps the Moon's topography, studies its composition, and scans for water ice.
  • China's Chang'e-4 performed the first landing on the Moon's far side in 2018, where it's still studying an ancient region.
  • NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been studying the Moon since 2009 with its comprehensive suite of mapping instruments.

Coming Soon

Every Mission to the Moon, Ever

It only takes a couple days to send most spacecraft to the Moon, so it's not surprising that humans have sent more missions there than anywhere else. The Moon is also the only celestial body besides Earth where humans have visited.

In Progress

  • NASA's Perseverance rover landed in February of 2021 and will search for past life and collect samples for return to Earth.
  • China's Tianwen-1 is an orbiter and rover mission that arrived in February 2021 to study the planet.
  • The United Arab Emirates' Hope orbiter arrived in February 2021 and will build a complete picture of the Martian atmosphere.
  • NASA's MAVEN orbiter studies what happened to Mars' atmosphere.
  • NASA's InSight lander studies the planet's interior.
  • ESA's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter searches for atmospheric gases linked to life as we know it.
  • India's Mangalyaan orbiter is a technology demonstration mission studying the planet.
  • ESA's Mars Express surveys the planet and searches for subsurface water.
  • NASA's Curiosity rover explores an ancient lake bed that once had conditions that could have supported life.
  • NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter studies the planet with a high-powered camera and relays communications between the surface and Earth.
  • NASA's long-lived Odyssey monitors surface changes.

Coming Soon

  • Japan's Martian Moons eXploration mission launches in 2024 to collect samples of Phobos for return to Earth.
  • The NASA-funded ESCAPADE twin orbiters will launch in 2024 to study the red planet's atmosphere and past.
  • Mars Sample Return is a series of missions by NASA and ESA to return samples from Mars to Earth in the early 2030s.
  • ESA's ExoMars rover will launch sometime by 2030 to find signs of life on Mars.

Every mission to Mars ever

There are several spacecraft operating at the red planet. Here are all the Mars missions, past and present.

In Progress

  • NASA's New Horizons is exploring a region of our solar system called the Kuiper Belt.
  • Japan's Hayabusa2 returned a sample of asteroid Ryugu to Earth in 2020 and is on a journey to two more asteroids.
  • NASA's OSIRIS-REx collected a sample of asteroid Bennu for return to Earth in 2023.
  • NASA's Lucy mission launched in 2021 to explore asteroids that share Jupiter's orbit.
  • NASA's DART spacecraft launched in 2021 and will crash into a small asteroid in October 2022, validating technology useful for deflecting any potentially hazardous asteroids that could threaten Earth.

Coming Soon

  • NASA's NEA Scout launches in 2023 to demonstrate a low-cost method of asteroid reconnaissance.
  • NASA's Psyche launches no earlier than 2023 to visit a same-named metal asteroid that may be the core of an exposed planet.
  • ESA's Hera spacecraft launches in 2024 to study the asteroid DART impacts.
  • China will launch its first asteroid deflection test mission in 2025 or 2026.
  • ESA's Comet Interceptor will launch in 2029 to fly past and study a pristine long-period comet, a first mission of its kind.

Every mission to an asteroid, comet, or small world, ever

Studying asteroids, comets, and small worlds helps us learn more about Earth and its origins.

In Progress

  • NASA's Juno studies the planet's core to help us understand how planets and our solar system formed.

Coming Soon

  • ESA's JUICE launches in 2022 to explore Jupiter and its icy moons Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede.
  • NASA's Europa Clipper launches in 2024 to determine whether Jupiter's moon Europa could support life.

Every Jupiter mission ever

Jupiter is not only an interesting scientific destination in its own right — it's also an important waypoint for spacecraft heading further into the solar system.

Coming Soon

  • NASA's Dragonfly launches in 2027 to explore Saturn's moon Titan.

Every Mission to Saturn, Ever

Only 4 spacecraft have ever made it out to Saturn. Our most comprehensive look at the planet came from NASA and the European Space Agency's Cassini-Huygens mission, which spent 13 years exploring Saturn and its moons.

  • NASA's Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have visited Uranus. It flew past the planet in 1986, and is now exploring interstellar space.
  • NASA's Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to have visited Neptune. It flew past the planet in 1989, and is now exploring interstellar space.

In Progress

  • NASA's Hubble Space Telescope is a multipurpose astrophysics and planetary science observatory.
  • ESA's CHEOPS precisely measures the diameters of known exoplanets.
  • NASA's TESS hunts for exoplanets around a specific type of bright stars.
  • NASA's JWST launched in 2021 to build on the Hubble Space Telescope's capabilities.

    Coming Soon