Space Studies Tuesday: Types of Spacecraft

Find the lesson here:

Robotic spacecraft are divided into eight categories, which are explained in the lesson. I thought I'd post about a current mission in each category:

Flyby spacecraft:   EPOXI, which finished its mission in 2010, flew by the Hartley 2 comet, checking out the differences between it and another comet it observed, Temple 1.  It also took reading of five distant stars to find other planets.

Orbiter spacecraft:  The Dawn spacecraft is an orbiter, with the mission of studying two protoplanets, "baby planets whose formation was interrupted by the formation of Jupiter," according the the JPL website..  Dawn has been studying Vesta  and is moving on this week to Ceres. It uses an ion engine that generates a small but continuous amount of thrust.

Atmospheric spacecraft:  Huygens, which is mentioned in the lesson, is the latest example I found.  There are other craft that are studying the atmosphere, like the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), which will study Mars' atmosphere to determine how had changed over time.

Lander spacecraft: The next lander planned by NASA is InSight, which in a sense is also a penetrator, as it will drill into the surface of Mars to gain insight into its makeup and evolution.

Of course, the goal on the commercial side is to send some really awesome landers that will serve as habitats for humans, such as in the Mars-One mission:

Penetrator spacecraft:  There haven't been any actual penetrator spacecraft missions in several years.  The latest one on the NASA site is Deep Impact, which studied the comet Tempel 1:

Rover spacecraft: Obviously, the spacecraft of the day, Mars Curiosity, is a rover. What I didn't realize is how slow the rover moves. On last Tuesday, it traveled 52 feet, and the goal, apparently, is a football field length a day. Check out the article here: Did you know you can follow Curiosity on Twitter?

Observatory spacecraft:  Hubble is an obvious example.  However, I'm going to mention Planetary Resources' ARKYD LEO spacecraft, which will be several orbiting telescopes thatwill search out asteroids for mining.

Communications & Navigation spacecraft:  By far, the most familiar of spacecraft, we depend on these kinds of craft daily.

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