[oas] OAS - Osservatorio Astronomico Sormano
OAS > Spacecrafts to Asteroids and Comets - (past, in progress and future missions)

Spacecrafts to asteroids and comets

Page prepared by Francesco Manca (obs.sormano@alice.it)

Last update: February 15, 2024


A new tool create at JPL NASA Near Earth Object Program is available to identify future observing opportunities for those near-Earth objects that may be well-suited to future human space flight round trip rendezvous missions.
Near-Earth Object Human Space Flight Accessible Targets Study (NHATS)






Space Agency: ASI , ESA , NASA


 Cassini Spacecraft


The mission's objective was Saturn and the moon Titan , the most interesting among its satellites (the probe Huygens has sent the first images after the probe descended through the atmosphere of Titan on January 14, 2005 ) .

On its way the spacecraft on January 23, 2000 took images of the main belt' asteroid (2685) Masursky probably an S-type object (for more explanation about asteroid type S see the Taxonomy class).

Images of the Saturn system and the moon, Phoebe, taken from Cassini during the approach path to the orbit insertion were sent. Phoebe is probably rich in ice and may be an object originating in the outer solar system, more related to comets and Kuiper Belt Objects than to asteroids.

On September 15, 2017 Cassini spacecraft as scheduled, , ends its mission into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending its 13-year tour of the ringed planet.

(for more details see the Web site of the CASSINI mission).



CONTOUR , Comment: Spacecraft lost

Space Agency: NASA


 Contour Spacecraft


CONTOUR Spacecraft was launched on July 03, 2002. Primary objectives was to visit and study at least two periodic comets : 2P Encke and 73P Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 , respectively in the years 2003 and 2006.

Events (from the CONTOUR's web site):

August 26, 2002 : .........On Aug. 15, CONTOUR's STAR 30 solid-propellant rocket motor was programmed to ignite at 4:49 a.m. EDT, giving CONTOUR enough boost to escape Earth's orbit. At that time, CONTOUR was about 140 miles above the Indian Ocean and out of radio contact with controllers. The CONTOUR mission operation team at APL expected to regain contact at approximately 5:35 a.m. EDT to confirm the burn, but NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) antennas did not acquire any signal. Since then, there has been no contact with CONTOUR.............

December 13, 2002 : Mission operators are planning their final attempts to contact NASA's CONTOUR spacecraft on Dec. 17 and Dec. 20 ....

December 20, 2002 : Efforts to communicate with CONTOUR ended shortly after noon today without a signal from the NASA spacecraft, and mission managers say they will not try to contact the silent probe again......... (read News&Media section at CONTOUR web page)


(for more details see the Web site of the CONTOUR mission)



CHANG'E 2 Spacecraft

Space Agency: CNSA


 Chang'e 2 Spacecraft


Chang'e 2 (named for a Chinese legend about a young fairy who flies to the Moon) was launched on October 1, 2010 as part of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program to conduct research on our Moon in preparation of a future landing of a rover. After completing this objective in June 2011, the spacecraft entered orbit around the Langragian point L2 in August 2011. In April 2012 Chang'e 2 departed L2 point to encounter the PHA asteroid (4179) Toutatis on december 13, 2012 (see also the MBPL priority list for its close encounters), but due to the high relative velocity (~11 km/s) between the spacecraft and the asteroid, only one fly-by has been possible at a close distance less than 200 Km using the probe's main stereo camera with a resolution of 10 metres.

In December 2012 Lance Benner and his staff at Goldstone Radiotelescope has obtained high resolution images of (4179) Toutatis. See also an animation using 64 radar images taken at Goldstone

December 13, 2012: the CNSA (Chinese Space Agency) has confirmed the fly-by of (4179) Toutatis has expected

(see the Web site of CHINESE SPACE AGENCY)




Space Agency: NASA,


 Dart Spacecraft


DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) is part of the international collaboration known as AIDA Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment and as Hera mission it is a part of AIDA and is currently a candidate ESA mission.

The main goal of the DART mission was the NASA's demonstration of kinetic impactor technology, impacting an asteroid to adjust its speed and path with target the binary asteroid system Didymos, DART
DART's target was the binary asteroid system Didymos, the spacecraft targeted the small moon (DidymosB) confirmed also by Earth-based telescopes measuring the altered Dimorphos orbit around Didymos by 32 minutescan.

DART has been launched on November 24, 2021.

See NASA Confirms DART Mission Impact Changed Asteroid s Motion in Space


(for more details see the Web site of the DART mission)





Space Agency: NASA , JPL


 Dawn Spacecraft


The Dawn spacecraft was launched on September 27, 2007 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station having the goal to investigate in detail two of the largest protoplanets remaining intact since their formation. Ceres and Vesta. Dawn has investigated the different structure and composition of Ceres ( the first asteroid discovered by G. Piazzi at Palermo Observatory, Italy ) and Vesta, the two largest asteroids in the asteroid belt. The spacecraft, after a Mars gravity assist in March 2009, has orbited Vesta on July 15, 2011 and approaching Ceres in March 2015 providing new answers about the formation and evolution of the early Solar System.


July 15, 2011: Dawn spacecraft has returned the first close-up image after beginning its orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta. On Friday, July 15, Dawn became the first probe to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

January, 2012: (new images from dawn) Vesta is expected to be so cold and to receive so little sunlight that water ice could have survived there for billions of years ....

May 2012: NASA's Dawn spacecraft has made the first orbital analysis of the giant asteroid Vesta. Vesta now has been revealed as a special fossil of the early solar system and seems to be as a layered, planetary building block with an iron core ...

September 4, 2012: Dawn departed from Vesta on Sept. 4, 2012. Dawn has mapped this giant asteroid, helping scientists unlock some of the secrets of how the solar system was formed. The spacecraft is now traveling on its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres.

Here a NASA's animation using images of VESTA taken by the onboard instruments of DAWN


February 25, 2015; Dawn spacecraft gets closer to being captured into orbit around the object. The latest images from Dawn, taken nearly 46,000 kilometers from Ceres, reveal that a bright spot that stands out in previous images lies close to yet another bright area.

March 2, 2015: Dawn spacecraft has returned new images captured on approach to its historic orbit insertion at the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn will be the first mission to successfully visit a dwarf planet when it enters orbit around Ceres on Friday, March 6,

March 06, 2015: NASA's Dawn spacecraft has become the first mission to achieve orbit around a dwarf planet.

January 2016: NASA's Dawn spacecraft sent new images of Ceres

April 2016: New Ceres images show bright craters

October 31, 2018: NASA's Dawn spacecraft ending its historic mission missed scheduled communications with Deep Space Network
may be due to ran out of hydrazine that enables the spacecraft to control its pointing.



(for more details see the Web site of the DAWN mission)




Partnership: University of Maryland , JPL , NASA , Ball Aereospace


 Deep Impact Spacecraft


DEEP IMPACT, launched on January 12, 2005 was a short mission to the comet 9P Tempel 1 as scientific target. The spacecraft reached out the comet on July 4, 2005 and released an impactor. The main goal of the mission was to observe the nucleus during the impact, collecting images and performing analysis of the internal structure.

See also the official Press RELEASE: 2005-109

Five minuts after the impact the first images from the orbiter was sent to the mission's center.

Both amateur and professional were called to observe the target 9P Tempel 1 to improve the scientific data. "The impact will not appreciably modify the comet's orbital path" said Don Yeomans, a Deep Impact mission scientist at JPL, "Comet Tempel 1 poses no threat to the Earth now or in the foreseeable future", he added.


(for more details see the Web site of the DEEP IMPACT mission)




Space Agency: NASA


 Deep Space 1 Spacecraft


This mission was the first to test new technologies like a new propulsion system (ion drive) and an autonomous navigation through the interplanetary space. The spacecraft made a flyby with the asteroid (9969) Braille on July 28, 1999 and a close encounter with the periodic comet 19P/Borrelly on September 22, 2001 capturing many images of its nucleus from a distance of about 2.200 Km. Movies of the comet as it travels through the space are also available.


(for more details see the Web site of DEEP SPACE 1)




Partnership: University of Maryland , JPL , NASA , Ball Aereospace


 Deep Impact Spacecraft


Nov. 4, 2010: NASA's EPOXI mission successfully flew by comet Hartley 2 capturing jets in Action . Mission navigators place the spacecraft at the estimated distance close to 700 kilometers (435 miles) where the spacecraft has begun returning images .

Before the fly-by, scientists using Arecibo Planetary Radar in Puerto Rico began observations of comet Hartley 2 on Oct. 25, 2010 through Oct. 27, 2010 and twelve radar images of the nucleus of comet Hartley 2 were obtained by the giant radiotelescope.

Mission's history:

On October 30, 2006 NASA announced that it has accepted the University of Maryland proposal to send the Deep Impact spacecraft to get a close-up look at periodic Comet 85/P Boethin in December, 2008, a new mission called DIXI, which stands for Deep Impact eXtended Investigation.

In December 2007 NASA announced the retargeting of the new so called Epoxi mission for a flyby of the periodic comet 103P/Hartley 2 on November 4, 2010 using the surviving Deep Impact spacecraft and its three working instruments.

Epoxi is an acronym for two other acronyms ((Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization (EpOCh) and Deep Impact eXtended Investigation (DIXI)). Scientists theorize comet 85P Boethin could not be found because it may have broken up into pieces too small for detection. In addition the spacecraft will study the physical properties of previously discovered extrasolar planetary systems.

Mission controllers at JPL began directing Epoxi towards Hartley 2 on November 1, 2007. The spacecraft flew within 43000 Kilometers of Earth on December 29, 2008.

DEEP IMPACT, launched on January 12, 2005 was a short mission to the comet 9P Tempel 1 as scientific target.



(for more details see the Web site of the:

DEEP IMPACT mission)

EPOXI mission at University of Maryland EPOXI site )



Space Agency: NASA


 Galileo Spacecraft


The scientific objectives of the GALILEO spacecraft were Jupiter and its moons , but on its way flew past the asteroid (951) Gaspra on October 29, 1991 obtained high resolution images. On August 28, 1993 the spacecraft had a second encounter with the asteroid (243) Ida and discovered for the first time the presence of a satellite orbiting around it, called Dactyl. Both the asteroids are in the main belt.


(for more details see the Web site of the GALILEO orbiter)




Space Agency: ESA


 Giotto Spacecraft


The objectives of the mission were to obtain the first images of a nucleus of a comet and study the composition of the volatile components. Giotto, on March 13, 1986 approached the Halley's comet and returned both images and scientific data back to Earth. After a hibernation period, the spacecraft was retargeted for a flyby with the comet 26P Grigg- Skjellerup on July 10, 1992.


(for more details see the Web site of the GIOTTO mission)



MUSES-C -Hayabusa

Space Agency: ISAS/JAXA , NASA


 Muses-C Spacecraft


Scheduled for launch in December 2002 the ISAS/JAXA asteroid mission has been launched on May 09, 2003, because of a spacecraft problem.

The scientific objective of MUSES-C, renamed "Hayabusa" (falcon), is the analysis of the surface of a Near Earth Asteroid and return a sample to the Earth. The target of the mission is the numbered asteroid (25143) Itokawa (in the past also asteroids (4660) Nereus and (10302) were considered as targets). (25143) Itokawa, for its encounters with the Earth and a low MOID value is considered a PHA (Potential Hazardous Asteroid).

NASA has canceled the development of a tiny rover, JPL's contribution to the mission. The official announcement was made on November 3, 2000.

The spacecraft is arrived in the middle of September 2005, orbiting for about five months around Itokawa. November 24, 2005, news from ISAS/JAXA (Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science): Hayabusa Landed on and Took Off from Itokawa successfully....

Latest News

Hayabusa landed entered the Earth's atmosphere on June 13, 2010 and was retrieved by JAXA on June 14th, 2010 (see Jaxa Press release .


(for more details see the Web site of the MUSES-C mission)



NEAR Shoemaker

Space Agency: NASA


 NEAR-Shoemaker Spacecraft


The NEAR spacecraft, named NEAR Shoemaker in honour of Eugene Shoemaker the famous astronomer who died in 1997, has been the first probe orbiting around a NEA (Near Earth Asteroid), (433) Eros.

The spacecraft, during its voyage to Eros, made a flyby of main belt asteroid (253) Mathilde on June 27, 1997. After a first attempt of an orbital insertion failed owing to a problem at the propulsion system, finally on February 14, 2000 NEAR Shoemaker entered in orbit around Eros and began to map its surface.

The mission was concluded on February 12, 2001. Before exhausting the fuel supply, Navigation's Team sent operative commands to attempt a controlled descent on (433) Eros (not really a landing because no legs were originally projected). In this way NEAR Shoemaker became also the first probe to land above an asteroid.


(for more details see the Web site of the NEAR mission)




NEA Scout

Space Agency: JPL


 Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout)


The Near-Earth Asteroid Scout (NEA Scout) mission employs a 6U CubeSat and a solar sail, the CubeSat was scheduled to be a ride-on mission on the Artemis 1 uncrewed test flight launch in 2022. The primary objectives of the mission was the close flyby and to return images with NEACam, a 20 M pixel CMOS image sensor with a useful array size of 3840 x 3840 pixels, the Near Earth Asteroid 2020 GE (before the target was the Near Earth Asteroid 1991 VG). 2020 GE is less than 18 meters in size. Asteroids smaller than 100 meters across have never been explored up close before.

See also TECA list for more info of its close encounter with the Earth.


After launch, communication with the spacecraft had not been established, and NEA Scout considered lost


(for more details see the Web site of the NEA Scout mission)







Space Agency: NASA , JPL , University of Arizona, Lockheed Martin




NASA first asteroid sampling mission launched into space on September 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard an Atlas V rocket. The mission, called Origins-Spectral-Interpretation-Resource-Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, or OSIRIS-REx, was the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth. The spacecraft OSIRIS-REx has approached the primitive, Near Earth Asteroid or NEA, designated (101955) Bennu (Bennu was an Egyptian mythological figure associated with Osiris, Atum and Ra) in August 2018. After a surface mapping of about six months, in 2018 the science team sent instructions to the spacecraft's arm to take a sample. The arm collected material that stored in a capsule returned to Earth to land at Utah's Test and Training Range in September 2023. (101955) Bennu probably rich in carbon is approximately 500 mt in diameter and it is considered a PHA Potential Hazardous Asteroid (see also MBPL List and the TECA list). The mission will accurately measure the "Yarkovsky effect".

May 2012:
Scientists have measured the drift resulting from the so called Yarkosky effect, improving the orbit of (101955) Bennu using data obtained at Arecibo and Goldstone antennas.

December, 2018:
Data obtained from the spacecraft?s two spectrometers, the OSIRIS-REx Visible and Infrared Spectrometer (OVIRS)
and the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES) have revealed water locked inside the asteroid Bennu

April, 2020:
the spacecraft approaches and moves away from asteroid Bennu surface on Apr. 14, 2020
during the first rehearsal of the OSIRIS-REx mission sample collection
see SamCam instrument Movie

September, 2023:
OSIRIS-REx Sample Return Capsule Lands in the Utah Desert

October, 2023:
NASA s Bennu Asteroid Sample Contains Carbon, Water


(for more details see the Web site of OSIRIS-REX)






Space Agency: ESA


 Rosetta Spacecraft


During its meeting on 13-14th May 2003, ESA's Science Programme Committee had established a new target ( see the ESA INFO May 28, 2003 ). Rosetta has been successfully launched on March 2nd 2004 using an Ariane-5 G+ launcher on periodic Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko sending the lander Philae on its surface. En route to the Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta fly-by two asteroids, (2867) Steins encountered on September 5, 2008 and (21) Lutetia on July 10, 2010 . On March 4, 2005 the spacecraft performed the Earth fly-by . Images of Rosetta sent to ESA are available at the web page prepared by Dr.Detlef Koschny (animated images of the Rosetta fly-by taken at Sormano Observatory are also available). The onboard instruments OSIRIS has used to obtained the light curve of (2867) Steins on March 11 2006, while (21) Lutetia was first imaged by Rosetta during a 36-hour observation campaign on 2 and 3 January 2007 . Scientists have been analysing the data taken by the OSIRIS camera onboard the spacecraft during the brief encounter with (21) Lutetia on July 10, 2010 at a closest distance of 3170 Km. ESA's Rosetta spacecraft has revealed asteroid Lutetia to be a primitive body of about 3.6 billion years old.

After the exit from the hibernation on Jan. 20, 2014,the spacecraft Rosetta executed a series of 10 orbit correction manoeuvres during May-August to line itself up for arrival at comet 67P and arriving on August 5, 2014. the Philae lander was deployed in November 2014.

A sequence of images of the comet 67P/Churyumov?Gerasimenko were taken between 27 March and 4 May 2014.

July 2014: Images taken by Rosetta's OSIRIS reveal an irregular shape of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It seems that the 67P is in two parts like as "contact binary" as suggested in the past using the radio image taken by the Arecibo radio telescope in 2008.

August 6, 2014; Rosetta arrived at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. New postcards from the OSIRIS team confirm it, new images taken from a distance of 130 Km shows the body section of comet 67PC-G,

Using detailed information on the shape of the nucleus,five candidate sites were identified for the Philae lander in November. See the dedicate web page at:
Rosetta: Landing site search narrows and Multimedia Gallery - Rosetta

September 15, 2014: The site J on the head of the comet 67P has been selected as the target site of the Philae lander. This region offer minimum risk to the lander compared to other candidate sites. The lander is planned to reach the surface in November 12, 2014

November 11, 2014: Rosetta deployed Philae on 12 November from a distance of 22.5 km.

November 16, 2014: Philae did not just touch down on Comet 67P/Churyumov?Gerasimenko once, but three times, the harpoons did not fire and Philae appeared to be rotating after the first touchdown. In this last position there is not sufficient sunlight on the solar panels to generate enough power. Waiting to receive more sunlight, Philae completes the mission before the hibernation

June 14, 2015: Rosetta's lander Philae has woken up after seven months in hibernation on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

July, 2015: Rosetta is preparing for perihelion passage

January, 2016: Exposed ice on Rosetta's comet confirmed as water

April, 2016: The colour-changing comet

September 30, 2016: End mission.
Rosetta mission has concluded as planned, with the controlled impact onto the comet



The launch of the ESA's spacecraft was scheduled for the night of 12-13 January 2003 but the launch date has been delayed because of the Dec. 11, 2002 launch failure(Flight 157 -Ariane5) . After the conclusions of the Review Board, ArianeSpace and ESA have decided on an indefinite postponement. Another target Comet and a new mission are to be taken into account.

In the year 2011, Rosetta should have made a landing on the nucleus of the Comet 46P Wirtanen for analysis inside and outside the surface and the result should have been sent to Earth. During its way it was to encounter two asteroids (both in the main belt), (140) Siwa in the year 2006 and (4979) Otawara in 2008 (see also " Mass and density determinations of 140 Siwa and 4979 Otawara as expected from the Rosetta flybys " ).

(for more details see the Web site of the ROSETTA mission)




Space Agency: NASA


 Stardust Spacecraft


After the European Space Agency mission (GIOTTO) in 1986, the first one direct to a comet (Halley's comet), STARDUST which was launched in the year 1999 made a close encounter with the periodic Comet 81P Wild 2 in January 2004. The spacecraft passed through the tail collecting cometary dust using a special material called aereogel.

The capsule carryng cometary particles (the first sample return mission ) successfully touched down on January 15, 2006 at the U.S. Air Force Utah Test and Training Range.

On November 2, 2002 the spacecraft passed within about 3.300 Km of the asteroid (5535) Annefrank and images of it were taken.


( From NEWS RELEASE: 2004-001 (JPL) )

On January 2, 2004, Stardust flew within 240 Km of the comet 81P Wild 2, catching samples of comet particles and scoring detailed pictures of the nucleus. ( Stardust Flyby animation is available ).

(for more details see the Web site of STARDUST )




Space Agency: NASA


 Stardust Spacecraft


On January 15, 2006, the STARDUST spacecraft completed its mission returning from a a rendezvous with comet 81P Wild 2. The spacecraft approached Earth and jettisoned the capsule containing particles from the comet and interstellar dust. The capsule landed safely and on-target, southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah, completing the first sample return from a comet. Now this spacecraft is on a new record-setting mission: a visit to 9P Tempel 1, the comet that was the target of the DEEP IMPACT mission. The new mission has been called Stardust-NExT (New Exploration of Tempel 1) and NASA plans to revisit Tempel 1 on February 14, 2011 to finish the investigation begun in 2005 when the Deep Impact mission blasted a crater into the comet. That's because the cloud of material ejected from the crater obscured the Deep Impact spacecraft's view. Looking into the crater with Stardust-NExT will provide mankind's first view of a comet's internal structure, the spacecrafts will fly at about 200 Km of Tempel 1. In January 2009 Stardust-NExT used the Earth's gravity to change trajectory and increase speed. Stardust-NExT encountered Tempel 1 at about at the same point in the comet's orbit where Deep Impact met up with a couple of weeks after the comet's perihelion.

February 14, 2011:
The spacecraft made its closest approach to comet Tempel 1 on Monday, Feb. 14, at a distance of approximately 178 km. Stardust took 72 high-resolution images of the comet and the crater made by the Deep Impact spacecraft.

In March 2011, the spacecraft received the command for the safe-mode.

(for more details see the Web site of STARDUST-NExT )



WISE (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer)

Space Agency: NASA , JPL, UCLA


 WISE Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer


Launched in December 2009 aboard a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Airforce base, WISE satellite (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer), a NASA-funded Explorer mission has been placed in a so-called Sun-synchronous orbit or polar orbit. WISE carrying an infrared-sensitive telescope that will image the entire sky detecting new Near-Earth-Asteroids and comets in the infrared spectrum. WISE will collect data for 6 months plus additonal 3 months for an extended mission. A collaboration with amateurs and astronomers is request just to confirme new detections of minor planets.

October 4, 2010: Although WISE has 'warmed up,' NASA has decided the mission will still continue...

February 17, 2011: WISE Principal Investigator sent the last command. The Spacecraft will remain in hibernation without ground contacts awaiting possible future use.


(for more details see the Web site of WISE)








Space Agency: ESA, ISAS/JAXA


 BepiColombo Spacecraft


The main goal of the spacecrafts, launched on October 20, 2018 from Korou (the European space facility) is Mercury , the planet nearest to the Sun and it will approache Mercury in December 2025. The mission consist of two spacecrafts that will go into orbit around the planet. ESA built one of the main spacecraft, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO), in addition the Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) to provide solar-electric propulsion for the journey to Mercury. The Japanese space agency ISAS/JAXA has contributed with the other, the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). The small lander was canceled by ESA , because of financial problems of the European Space Agency.

Bepicolombo has been named in honour of Giuseppe Colombo, a mathematician at the University of Padua (also asteroid 10387 was named Bepicolombo in his honour).

The imaging camera (or a small telescope) mounting on board can be used to discover asteroids like Athen inside the Earth's orbit.

Again, there are some minor planets with interesting close encounters with Mercury in the next future, after the end of the nominal mission. Please check the minor planets designation in the PCEL (Planetary Close Encounters list), index at the Sormano Observatory main page.

In addition it will be useful to investigate the opportunity to observe new objects as the first object discovered inside the orbits between Mercury and Venus, see for more information the MPEC 2020-A99 : 2020 AV2.

BepiColombo mission has captured the first views of its destination planet Mercury on 1 October, 2021 at an altitude of 199 km from the planet.


(for more details see the Web site of the BEPICOLOMBO mission)






Space Agency: ESA


 Gaia Spacecraft


 Gaia blasted off on December 19, 2013 on a Soyuz rocket from European spaceport in Korou and it is planned to perform its operations around the Lagrangian L2 point of the Sun-Earth system. The scientific objectives of GAIA will be astrometric measurements of stars (after the success of the HIPPARCOS mission) and additional studies of our Galaxy . Very high precision astrometric measurements (and new discoveries) of asteroids are expected.


A the end of July 2014, GAIA began its science mission and in September 2014 GAIA discovers its first supernova (Type Ia) while scanning the sky.

Gaia Data Release 1
Gaia Data Release 2
consisting of astrometry and photometry for over 1 billion sources brighter than magnitude 20.7 are available.

Gaia?s first asteroid discoveries
three new asteroids were first spotted by Gaia in December 2018, and later confirmed by follow-up observations performed with the Haute-Provence Observatory in France.

(for more details see the Web site of GAIA)




Space Agency: ISAS/JAXA


 Hayabusa2 Spacecraft


Launched on December 03, 2014 from the Tanegashima Space Center, this mission is the successor of MUSES_C "Hayabusa" returned to Earth in 2010.

The scientific objective of the spacecraft is the analysis and a sample-return mission of the Potential Hazardous Asteroid (162173) Ryugu (see also our MBPL List with computations of future close approaches of this PHA with the Earth). Hayabusa_2 is expected to arrive at the of June 2018 approaching the asteroid as its predecessor, The spacecraft will try to collect some samples analyzing them with dedicated instruments. The mission will test also guidance and navigation technology leaving the asteroid at the end of 2019 and returning to Earth around the end of 2020.

June 27, 2018: JAXA confirmed the rendezvouse with (162173) Ryugu

August 07, 2018: Hayabusa2 approached a minimum altitude of 851 m from the surface of Ryugu to test the gravitational attraction.

September 22, 2018: Confirmation of landing on the surface of the rovers Minerva Rover-1A and Rover-1B on asteroid Ryugu.

October 03, 2018: the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) lands safely on asteroid Ryugu informations and images provided by DLR responsible of the lander.

April 24, 2019: The Crater Search Operation (Post-SCI)(CRA2): A 2kg copper mass was fired using the collision apparatus to collide with Ryugu.

July 11, 2019: 2nd touchdown: Hayabusa2 spacecraft performed a 2nd touchdown on the surface of asteroid Ryugu.From the data sent from Hayabusa2,
it has been confirmed that the touchdown sequence was completed successfully.

November 13, 2019: at 10:05 JST (onboard time), the Hayabusa2 spacecraft
departed from asteroid Ryugu to return to Earth

July 14, 2020: Re-entry capsule will return to Earth on December 6, 2020

December, 2020: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency confirm that samples
from asteroid Ryugu have been collected within the sample container inside the re-entry capsule of the asteroid explorer, Hayabusa2

Extended mission for Hayabusa2
the selection was narrowed down to two objects: 2001 AV43 and 1998 KY26> (encounters in 2029 and 2031)


(for more details see the Web site of the Hayabusa2 mission)





Space Agency: NASA,


 Lucy Spacecraft


Launched Oct 16, 2021 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41, Lucy will complete a 12-year journey to eight different asteroids, a Main Belt asteroid on Nov.1, 2023, a second one in 2025 and six Trojans asteroids.

The main goal of the LUCY mission is the tour of six Jupiter trojans asteroids that orbiting at the same distance from the Sun as Jupiter at 60 degree ahead and behind of the giant planet. This is the first space mission to explore Trojan asteroids that are likely remnant of the same primordial material that formed the outer planets at Jupiter's two stable Lagrange points.

November 01, 2023: Closest approach on Nov. 1, 2023 of asteroid Dinkinesh
During the fly-by of the main belt (152830) Dinkinesh, Lucy spacecraft taken image that shows the asteroid as binary.




(for more details see the Web site of the Lucy mission)





NEOWISE (Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer)

Space Agency: NASA , JPL, UCLA


 NEOWISE Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer


Launched in December 2009 aboard a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Airforce base, the satellite, a NASA-funded Explorer mission has been placed in a so-called Sun-synchronous orbit or polar orbit.

Originally called the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), the spacecraft was shut down in 2011 after its primary mission was completed. In September 2013, it was reactivated, renamed NEOWISE (Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer) and assigned a new mission to assist NASA's efforts to identify the population of potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.

On february 14, 2014 NEOWISE discovered its first such discovery since coming out of hibernation late last year Officially named C/2014 C3 (NEOWISE). the spacecraft is credited with the discovery of 21 other comets during its primary mission.

Celebrating 10 Years of the WISE Spacecraft.

more news from NEOWISE.


(for more details see the Web site of NEOWISE)







Space Agency: NASA , JPL , University of Arizona, Lockheed Martin




Reinvented as NASA’s OSIRIS-APEX, the spacecraft formerly known as OSIRIS-REX is about to face the first major test of its mission to asteroid (99942)Apophis When OSIRIS-REX left Bennu in May 2021 with a sample aboard, its instruments were in great condition, and it still had a quarter of its fuel left. So instead of shutting down the spacecraft after it delivered the sample, the team proposedto dispatch it on a bonus mission to asteroid Apophis, with an expected arrival in April 2029,the new mission has been called Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security – Apophis Explorer, or OSIRIS-APEX.


(for more details see the Web site of OSIRIS-APEX)




Space Agency: NASA , JPL


 Horizons Pluto Express


 New Horizons a mission to obtain the first close look at Pluto and his Moon Charon was launched on January 19, 2006. The spacecraft entered in the system Pluto-Charon on July 14, 2015 after a Jupiter flyby in February 2007 to increase its speed. Over a period of scientific investigations, the spacecraft will continue into the Kuiper Belt for further encounters to learn more about KBOs (Kuiper Belt Objects) , icy objects supposed to be the tank of comets orbiting inside our Solar System.

Planetary scientists have successfully usedthe Hubble Space Telescope to find suitable targets for NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto.

In August, 2012 the New Horizons team announced on Twitter the observations of a distant object named VNH0004 but not yet been formally submitted to the Minor Planet Center.

May 28, 2015: New Horizons team has analyzed the first set of hazard-search images of the Pluto system from a range of 76 million kilometers.

Images archive of the PLUTO System

July 14, 2015 : New Horizons arrived at PLUTO approaching it from a distance of about 12,500 Km!

Science Photos

May, 2016 : first compositional data about Pluto's four small satellites

Decemeber, 2017 : spacecraft carried out a short, 2.5-minute engine burn on Saturday, Dec. 9. This maneuver refined the course to the new target, (486958) 2014 MU69, the ancient Kuiper Belt object that it has encountered on January 1, 2019.

Novenber, 2019 : the primordial binary Kuiper belt object (486958) nicknamed "Ultima Thule" officially named "Arrokoth"

(for more details see the Web site of NEW HORIZONS (PLUTO EXPRESS))





Space Agency: NASA , JPL, Space Systems Loral


 Psyche Spacecraft


The main goal of the mission is a journey to the Main Belt's asteroid (16) Psyche , a unique metal asteroid that offers a window about the history of collisions and accretion that created terrestrial planets due to the exposed nickel-iron core as an early planet. The mission is led by Arizona State University. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for mission management, operations and navigation.

The mission was scheduled for lauch in 2022 with a planned arrival in 2026 following a Mars flyby and gravity-assist in 2023.

NASA Announces Launch Delay for Psyche Asteroid Mission Due to the late delivery of the spacecraft flight software and testing equipment, The spacecraft has been launched on October 13, 2023, the relative orbital positions of Psyche and Earth mean the spacecraft arrive at the asteroid in middle 2029,


(for more details see the Web site of the PSYCHE mission)









Space Agency: NASA , Cornell University


 CAESAR mission


Comet Astrobiology Exploration SAmple Return (CAESAR) is a planned proposal for the fifth mission in NASA s New Frontiers Program with launch in August 2024. Its goal is to collect material from the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and return to Earth with one of the largest samples from space since the Apollo moon missions. It will use a long robotic arm to deliver the sampling device to the surface, and then use jets of gas to quickly push material into a container (see a View an interactive 3D model (courtesy ESA) of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

The designated landing site is the Utah Test and Training Range.


(for more details see the Web site of the CAESAR mission)






Space Agency: ESA,


 Comet Interceptor


The Comet Interceptor mission was selected by ESA in June 2019 as F (Fast)-class missions (mass of less than 1000 kg), and has now been undergoing detailed study by the agency for launch in 2029 as co-passenger with ESA exoplanet-studying Ariel spacecraft .

In June 2022 the mission has been approved for construction.

Comet Interceptor it will be the first to encounter an as-yet unknown target and it will be delivered to Sun-Earth L2 point and wait for a long-period comet, from there will journey onwards to the chosen target using its own propulsion system.

Comet Interceptor mission comprising three spacecraft , each module will be equipped with a complementary science payload, providing different perspectives of the comet nucleus and its gas, dust, and plasma environment


(for more details see the Web site of the Comet Interceptor mission)






Space Agency: JAXA,




DESTINY+ (Demonstration and Experiment of Space Technology for INterplanetary voYage with Phaethon fLyby and dUst Science) will launch in 2024 (planned) on a journey to asteroid (3200) Phaethon, The goal of the Japanese spacecraft will examine cosmic dust during the entire cruise phase to Phaethon, with dust particles that have escaped from the asteroid. During its flyby the spacecraft will approach the asteroid down to a distance of approximately 500 kilometres. The key instrument is the German DESTINY+ Dust Analyzer (DDA), which will collect and analyse cosmic dust samples during the entire flight of the spacecraft.




(for more details see the Web site of the DESTINY+ mission( until now in Japanese))






Space Agency: ESA,


 HERA Spacecraft


HERA mission was planned in origin as Asteroid Impact Mission to demonstrate technologies for future missions of planetary defense. The HERA spacecraft will be launched in 2024.
The spacecraft will arrive in 2026 to its mission target, the Apollo-type NEO (65803) Didymos, this is a binary body, the primary has a radius of around 750 m while the secondary ( a moon called Didymoon) has a diameter of about 170 m.
After arrival, the HERA spacecraft will observe the binary system to obtain a high-resolution 3D model of the asteroid, in addition it will release CubeSats .

A CubeSat has been named after the late Prof. Andrea Milani,

Hera will arrive about three years later, to characterise Didymoon in great detail. In particular, it will perform
detailed measurements of the physical properties of the body, as well as its orbit, to characterise the consequences of DART?s kinetic impact.

HERA will be the european mission to measure asteroid deflection by determining the ejecta momentum amplification factor of a kinetic impactor.


(for more details see the Web site of the HERA MISSION)






Space Agency: NASA,


 Janus Spacecrafts


Janus is a mission composed by two small spacecraft where each spacecraft will fly by two binary asteroid systems:
(175706) 1996 FG3
(35107) 1991 VH
taking images with visible and infrared cameras. The primary scientific objectives are to identify and understand the processes that lead to binary asteroid formation. Janus has been removed for launch as a secondary satellite on the PSYCHE mission. Launch was scheduled for August 2022 but due to the delay of the PSYCHE mission a new date will be scheduled and now the mission has been again postponed.



(for more details see the Web site of the Janus mission)





Near-Earth Object Surveyor space telescope (NEO Surveyor)

Space Agency: JPL, BALL Aerospace, Teledyne Imaging Sensors


 Near-Earth Object Surveyor space telescope (NEO Surveyor)


The main goal of the Near-Earth Object Surveyor space telescope (NEO Surveyor) is the discovery of the potentially hazardous asteroids that are near the Earth. NEOCam consists of an infrared 50 cm diameter telescope and a wide-field camera operating at thermal infrared wavelengths and its orbit will be located at Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point

NEOCam has been funded for an extended Phase A study by NASA in the Planetary Defense Coordination Office.


(for more details see the Web site of the NEO Surveyor mission)






Space Agency: CNSA




Tianwen-2 has been officially approved by Chinese government, is scheduled to be launched on a Long March 3B rocket in May 2025 to explore the co-orbital near-Earth asteroid (469219) Kamoʻoalewa and the main-belt comet 311P/PANSTARRS. The spacecraft will use both anchor-and-attach and touch-and-go methods to attempt collection of a sample from the asteroid, like Hayabusa 2 or OSIRIS-REx. Tianwen-2 will be the first time that China has retrieved samples, the difficulty of the mission is due to the no gravity around the asteroid that is small (less than 100 mt in diameter) so, the spacecraft cannot orbiting around it but can only catch up with it and choose the opportunity to sample.














Some links about launchers also used for spacecrafts included in this web page:

  • Ariane (Europe-ESA)
  • Russian rockets
  • Space Shuttle (USA)
  • Delta II (USA)
  • Atlas (USA)
  • M-V (Japan)




    On February 01, 2003 the Space Shuttle Columbia and its seven astronauts were lost over North central Texas during its reentry from orbit at an altitude of about 60 Km. Information about the tragedy of the STS-107 mission is available in the FINAL REPORT

    January 06, 2004: from the Mars Exploration Rover Mission web page : Space Shuttle Columbia Crew Memorialized On Mars .

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    Web Curators: M. Carpino, F. Manca
    Last modified: February 15, 2024