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Observatories Looking into Deep Space & Beyond, in order :
plus nation, launch date, result (bold = success, red = failure, gray = dormant, inactive or reentered)
vehicle type in parentheses if launch failure
Overall success: 63/68 = 93%

  1. Explorer 11 (S-15) - USA 27 April 1961
    High energy gamma ray counter. Results led to demise of steady-state cosmological theory. Tx stopped 06Dec1961. Still in orbit.

  2. Kosmos-51 - USSR 09 December 1964
    Measured luminosity of starry sky. Reentered 14Nov1965.

  3. Proton-1 - USSR 16 July 1965
    Huge (12.2 tonne) high energy physics laboratory (cosmic, X-, and gamma rays), heaviest Soviet payload up to that date. Decayed 11Oct1965.

  4. Proton-2 - USSR 02 November 1965
    Second in series of large high energy physics laboratories (cosmic, X-, and gamma rays). Decayed 06Feb1966.

  5. OAO 1 - USA 08 April 1966
    Battery failed second day in orbit of first large multispectral observatory (IR, UV, gamma, X-ray). In orbit.

  6. Proton-3 - USSR 06 July 1966
    Third in series of large high energy physics laboratories (cosmic, X-, and gamma rays). Decayed 16Sep1966.

  7. Kosmos-208 - USSR 21 March 1968
    Primary payload was Zenit-class military spysat, secondary was Nauka 31KS high energy gamma ray expt payload. Reentered 02Apr1968.

  8. Explorer 38 (Radio Astronomy Explorer 1) - USA 04 July 1968
    Low frequency monitor of cosmic, solar and terrestrial radio waves. Discovered natural radio emission from Earth. In orbit.

  9. Kosmos-251 - USSR 31 October 1968
    Primary payload was Zenit-class spysat, secondary payload was high energy gamma ray and radioastronomy expts. Reentered 18Nov1968.

  10. Proton-4 - USSR 16 November 1968
    Even larger (17 tonne) high energy physics laboratory (cosmic, X-, and gamma rays), new Soviet orbital payload delivery record. Decayed 24Jul1969.

  11. Stargazer (OAO 2) - USA 7 December 1968
    First large UV observatory, plus 10 other telescopes (IR, gamma, X-ray). In orbit. Observed 1970A? Nova Serpentis. Functional?

  12. Kosmos-264 - USSR 22 January 1969
    Primary payload was probably military navsat, secondary payload was high energy gamma ray experiment. Reentered 05Feb1969.

  13. OAO B - USA 30 November 1970
    Large multispectral observatory. Shroud failed to separate, splashdown after launch.

  14. Explorer 42 (SAS-1, Uhuru) - USA/Italy/Kenya 12 December 1970
    First Small Astronomy Satellite (SAS). Comprehensive X-ray mapper. Reentered 05Apr1979.

  15. Kosmos-461 - USSR 02 December 1971
    DS (Dnepropetrovskoye Sputnik) -U2-MT micrometeorite and gamma ray counter. Dedicated mission launched from Plesetsk site. Reentered 21Feb1979.

  16. Ariel-4 (UK-4) - USA/UK 11 December 1971
    Anglo-American radioastronomy satellite launched from Vandenberg AFB. Studied galactic radio noise @ lf and elf. Decayed 12Dec1978.

  17. TD-1A - ESRO/USA 12 March 1972
    Launched from VAFB into polar LEO. 7 instruments investigated high energy (UV, X-ray, gamma) emissions. Tx ceased May1974. Decayed 09Jan1980.

  18. Kosmos-484 - USSR 06 April 1972
    Primary payload was Zenit-class spysat out of Plesetsk cosmodrome. Secondary payload was cosmic ray expt capsule. Primary reentered 18Apr1972, secondary reentered when?

  19. Kosmos-490 - USSR 17 May 1972
    Primary payload was Zenit-class spysat out of Plesetsk cosmodrome. Secondary payload was electron flux/cosmic ray expt capsule. Primary reentered 29May1972, secondary reentered when?

  20. Copernicus (OAO 3) - USA 21 August 1972
    Stellar UV large observatory. Also 3 other telescopes and X-ray collimator. Studied planetary atmospheres and Cygnus X-1. In orbit. Functional?

  21. Explorer 48 (SAS-2) - USA/Italy/Kenya 15 November 1972
    Second Small Astronomy Satellite. Detected sources of gamma rays. Reentered 20Aug1980.

  22. Explorer 49 (Radio Astronomy Explorer 2) - USA 10 June 1973
    Low frequency monitor of cosmic and solar radio waves, in lunar orbit to minimize terrestrial interference.

  23. NAS - Netherlands 30 August 1974
    Netherlands Astronomy Satellite. X-ray & UV observatory. Discovered X-ray bursters. Reentered 14Jun1977.

  24. UK-X4 (Miranda) - UK 09 March 1974
    scientific mission? X-ray observatory? launched from Vandenberg. In polar orbit.

  25. Ariel-5 - UK 15 October 1974
    X-ray observatory launched from San Marco. Decayed 14Mar1980.

  26. Explorer 53 (SAS-3) - USA/Italy/Kenya 07 May 1975
    Third Small Astronomy Satellite. Detected sources of X-rays. Discovered closest quasar. Reentered 09Apr1979.

  27. COS-B - ESA/USA 09 August 1975
    High energy (20+ MeV) gamma ray telescope launched from Vandenberg. In highly eccentric polar orbit.

  28. Corsa - Japan 04 February 1976 (Mu 3C)
    X-ray observation? Failed to attain orbit.

  29. SIGNE-3 - France/USSR 17 June 1977
    French satellite launched from Kapustin Yar. Observed galactic & extragalactic X-rays & gamma rays. Decayed 20Jun1979.

  30. HEAO 1 - USA 12 August 1977
    High Energy Astronomy Observatory #1 for X-ray survey. Mapped 1500 sources. Decayed 15Mar1979.

  31. IUE - USA/UK/ESA 26 January 1978
    International Ultraviolet Explorer for UV spectrometry. Discovered black hole at Galactic Core and gravitational lensing of quasars. Observed SN1987A. Turned off in 1995. Instruments:
    Prime: 45-cm UV telescope

  32. HEAO 2 (Einstein) - USA 13 November 1978
    High Energy Astronomy Observatory #2 revisited targets of HEAO 1 at higher resolution. First pix of X-ray bursters. Decayed 25Mar1982.

  33. Hakucho (Corsa B) - Japan 21 February 1979
    Soft X-ray observation. Decayed 15Apr1985.
    Prime: ?

  34. Ariel-6 - UK/USA 03 June 1979
    Studied X- and cosmic rays. Decayed 23Sep1990.

  35. HEAO 3 - USA 20 September 1979
    High Energy Astronomy Observatory #3 for measuring cosmic & gamma rays. Discovered matter-antimatter annihilation at Galactic Core. Decayed 07Dec1981.

  36. IRAS - USA/UK/Netherlands 26 January 1983
    InfraRed Astronomy Satellite. All-sky IR survey. First discovery of extrasolar planetary disks near Taurus-Auriga in 1992. In orbit.
    Prime: IR spectrometer

  37. Tenma (Astro-B) - Japan 20 February 1983
    X-ray observation of stars, galaxies, nebulae. Decayed 17Dec1988.

  38. Astron - USSR/France 23 March 1983
    Astrophysics. In 25k × 179k × 80 ° HEO. Instruments:
    Prime: 0.1-0.35 micron UV telescope
    Secondary: SKR-02M 2-25 keV X-ray spectrometer/telescope

  39. Exosat - ESA/USA 26 May 1983
    X-ray observatory studied numerous X-ray sources. Active for 1050 days. Decayed 06May1986.

  40. Relict/Prognoz 9 - USSR 01 July 1983
    Instrument package to detect Big Bang 8mm microwave signature piggybacked on earth science mission background. In extremely elliptical orbit (380 km × 720,000 km × 65.5 ° ).

  41. Ginga (Astro-C) - Japan 05 February 1987
    X-ray and gamma ray observation. Decayed 01Nov1991.

  42. Hipparcos - ESA 08 August1989
    High Precision Parallax Collecting Satellite measures five parameters of 100K stars and maps positions of 400K stars. Failed to reach GEO due to AKM (Ariane 44LP) upper stage malf, but has worked well anyway. In 542 km x 35889 km x 7 deg GTO. Instruments:
    Prime: Schmidt telescope @ 2 milliarcsec
    Secondary: Tycho star mapper @ 30 milliarcsec

  43. COBE (COsmic Background Explorer) - USA 18 November 1989
    All-sky infrared survey discovered important variations in background radiation field (Big Bang signature). Tx ceased 01May1997. In orbit.
    Prime instrument: microwave spectrometer

  44. Granat - Russia/France/Bulgaria/Denmark 01 December 1989
    X-ray & gamma ray observatory, reentered summer 1999?

  45. Hubble Space Telescope - USA/ESA 24 April 1990
    Extreme UV to near IR observatory, deployed from Shuttle in LEO (STS-31). 1st of 4 Great Observatories. $2000M, 10.8 tonne. Primary optics repaired 4-10Dec1993 (STS-61), three major upgrades since, STS-82 in Dec1997 & STS-xx in Dec1999 & STS-109 in Feb2002. Instruments:
    Radial position, optical imaging: Wide Field/Planetary Camera (115 nm exUV - 1 mm near IR, @ 0.1 arcsec, range = 14 billion ly, life = 1990-1993), WFPC-2 (1993-2004?), WFC-3 (2004?)
    Axial -V2/+V3 position, low-res spectrography & IR imaging: Faint Object Spectrograph (1990-1997), NICMOS (1997-);
    Axial -V3/-V2 position, spectrography: High Resolution Spectrograph (1990-1997), STIS (1997-); COS (planned 2004?)
    Axial +V2/-V3 position, photometry: High Speed Photometer/Polarimeter (1990-1993), COSTAR corrective optics for FOC, GHRS, FOS (1993-2004?);
    Axial +V3/+V2 postion, UV imaging: Faint Object Camera (life=1990-2002), ACS (2002?-);
    Fine Guidance Sensor

  46. ROSAT (Röntgensatellit) - Germany 1 June 1990
    All-sky X-ray and extreme UV (0.6 - 12 nm) survey. Launched by Space Shuttle. Camera accidentally burned out Sep1998. Instruments:
    Prime: soft X-ray/extreme UV camera
    Secondary: ?

  47. Gamma - Russia/France/Poland 11 July 1990
    Gamma ray observatory, reentered 28Feb1992.

  48. Compton Gamma Ray Observatory - USA 07 April 1991
    Gamma ray observatory, deployed from Shuttle in LEO (STS-37). 2nd of 4 Great Observatories. $740M, 15 620 kg. Discovered gamma ray burst GRB 990123. Due to attitude gyro failure, was commanded to reenter over Pacific 04Jun2000.
    Prime instrument: gamma ray telescope;
    secondary: gamma ray spectrometer, 20-30 MeV
    COMPTEL and 1 other instrument

  49. IBSS - USA 01 May 1991
    Infrared Background Signature Survey, returned via Shuttle Discovery 06May1991.

  50. SARA - France 17 July 1991
    Radioastronomy. In orbit.
    Prime: ?

  51. EUVE - USA 07 June 1992
    Extreme Ultraviolet Explorer mapped ~1000 cosmic sources @ 7-70 nm. Retired 31Jan2001. In orbit. 7000-lb spacecraft reentered March 2002. For more info, see http://www.cea.berkeley.edu/. Instruments:
    four UV telescopes
    one UV spectrometer

  52. Asuka (Astro-D, ASCA) - Japan 20 February 1993
    X-ray observation mission. Solar storm expanded atmosphere and tumbled spacecraft in July 2000. Reentered 02Mar2001. Instruments:
    Prime: CCD imaging, hard x-ray telescope
    Secondaries: foil-type X-ray telescopes.

  53. ALEXIS - USA 25 April 1993
    Array of Low Energy X-ray Imaging Sensors. Still working? Instruments:
    Prime: widefield soft x-ray camera?

  54. Orfeus-Spas - Germany/USA 13 September 1993
    Orbiting and Retrievable Far & Extreme UV spectrometer, returned via Shuttle Discovery 22Sep1993.

  55. SROSS C2 - India 04 May 1994
    Gamma ray burst experiment and other astronomical instruments. Functional?

  56. IRO - ESA 17 November 1995
    InfraRed space Observatory. Images super cold (8 kelvins) galactic and extragalactic objects @ 800 nm - 0.2 mm. Mission ended in 1998 when supercoolant exhausted. In highly elliptical Earth orbit.

  57. X-ray Timing Explorer - USA 30 December 1995
    XTE monitors cosmic activity in X-ray region. Active, in low earth orbit.

  58. Beppo/SAX - Italy/Netherlands 30 April 1996
    Satellite per Astronomia a riaggi-X. Observes 0.1-200 keV X-rays. In orbit.

  59. HETE - USA 04 November 1996 (Pegasus)
    High-Energy Transient Experiment. Dual manifested w/ Argentine SAC-B. Failed to separate from 3rd stage. Replacement reflown 09Oct2000. Will reenter about 07Apr2002.

  60. Orfeus-Spas - Germany/USA 20 November 1996
    Far & extreme UV spectrometer, returned via Shuttle Columbia 07Dec1996.

  61. TRACE - USA 02 April 1998
    In polar LEO. Instruments:
    Prime: 30-cm extreme UV telescope @ 1 arcsec

  62. FUSE - USA 24 June 1999
    Far UV Spectroscopic Explorer. Active, in HEO. Instruments:

  63. Chandra X-ray Observatory - USA 23 July 1999
    Launched from Shuttle STS-93. $1.6 billion, 5.2 tonnes. Renamed Chandra In HEO. Instruments:
    Prime: 1.2 m aperture telescope @ 0.5 arcsec for 0.1-9 keV X-rays.
    Other: Advanced CCD Imaging Spectrometer (ACIS)

  64. X-ray Multi Mirror-Newton (XMM) - ESA 10 December 1999
    X-ray observatory. Wider aperture but less resolution than Chandra. In HEO. Instruments (4):
    Prime: X-ray imaging telescope and two telescope/spectrometers;
    Other: Co-ax 30 cm optical & UV finder scope

  65. Astro-E - Japan 10 February 2000 (M-5)
    X-ray spectroscopy mission launched into wrong orbit, contact lost 10Feb2000. May have reentered same day. Instruments:
    Prime: 0.060 kelvin X-ray spectrometer
    four X-ray imaging spectrometers
    one hard X-ray detector

  66. HXRS - USA/Czech 12 March 2000
    Hard X-ray Spectrometer.

  67. HETE-2 - USA/France/Japan 09 October 2000
    High-Energy Transient Explorer 2. Gamma ray burst detector/locator. Instruments:
    gamma ray/very bright transient x-ray detector (CNES)
    wide-field (10 arc-minute rez) x-ray monitor (RIKEN-Los Alamos)
    optical/soft x-ray (10 arc-second rez) camera (MIT)

  68. Odin - Sweden 20 February 2001
    Submillimeter wave astronomy. Instruments:
    500 GHz radiometer
    119 GHz radiometer

  69. MAP - USA 30 June 2001.
    Microwave Anisotropy Probe will provide full sky map of background cosmic microwaves. Second MIDEX-class mission. Instruments:
    2x differential 1.5 m radiometers, f = 22-90GHz, temp. res. = 35 microK, spat. res. = 0.2°
    Flew by Luna @ 5200 km on 1639 30Jul2001. At Sun-Earth L2 (darkside) point.

This category is almost complete. Members of this set were classified by where they are looking, not where they happen to be. (Most are in LEO.) If I've skipped your favorite science mission, by all means email me robot@ultimax.com. The dearth of Soviet/Russian missions may be due to payloads and purposes of Interkosmos, Prognoz, and especially the generic Kosmos missions not being well documented. Any further information concerning the scientific objectives of the following Kosmos missions, which have been reported to be for astronomical research, would be appreciated: Kosmos-8, -208, -230, -251, -262, -264, -307, -461, -484, and -490.

Credit goes out to TRW Space Log 1957-1996, The Planetary Report published by The Planetary Society, Proton Mission Planner's Manual, and Jonathan's Space Report; to Chris Jones clj@world.std.com and Marc Rayman mrayman@jpl.nasa.gov. A tip o' the leaded visor to David Portree DSFPortree@aol.com for his sharp eyes.

Future Missions to Look into the Universe

  • CATsat - USA July 2001.
    Cooperative Astrophysics and Technology satellite will study gamma ray bursts. To be launched with IceSat.

  • GalEx - USA September 2001.
    UV telescope to detect and observe galaxies billions of light years away.

  • SIRTF - USA December 2001.
    Fourth "Great Observatory", the Space InfraRed Telescope Facility.

  • gamma ray observatory - Russia approved for 2001?
    orbting gamma ray observatory by IKI. Unknown status.

  • Integral - ESA/Russia April 2002 (Proton).
    INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory. 4 000 kg. 4 instruments:
    Prime: gamma-ray imager and spectrometer
    X-ray and visible-light camera to help ID gamma-ray sources

  • CHIPS - USA April 2002.
    Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectometer will study Local Bubble out to 300 light-years.

  • Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer - USA 2003.
    MIDEX-class. Rapidly slewing set of telescopes to capture position to 1-4 arc minutes, brightness, and other properties of GRBs within 15 seconds of discovery.

  • Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer - USA 2003.
    Search for dark matter, missing matter & antimatter from aboard International Space Station.

  • Spectrum-Roentgen-Gamma - ESA/Russia circa2003-2005.
    Multispectral deep space observatory, European instruments on a Russian bus & launcher. US$300M. May be canceled if ESA does not provide remaining $20M.

  • FAME - USA 2004.
    MIDEX-class. Full-sky Astrometric Mapping Explorer will measure distance, motion, parallax and photometry of nearest 40 million stars (all stars this side of Milky Way) to within 0.05 milliarcseconds. Detect associated large planets.

  • Corot - ESA 2004.
    Will measure light fluctuation of 6000 candidate stars (see discussion of extrasolar detection techniques below).

  • LISA - NASA/ESA 2004?
    Laser Interferometer Space Antenna - first gravitational wave observatory. 3 spacecraft will fly in solar orbit in 5 million km triangular formation.

  • GLAST - USA 2005.
    Gamma ray Large Area Space Telescope. 10-100 MeV spectrometer, 30X sensitivity of Compton.

  • Spektr RadioAstron - Russia/ESA post 2005.
    Study radio galaxies and quasars with 10m radiotelescope.

  • Spektr UV - Russia post 2005
    orbiting UV observatory. Unknown status.

  • Kepler - USA circa 2007.
    Proposed Discovery mission is a space telescope specifically designed to detect Earth-sized planets around stars in the Sun's neighborhood of the galaxy. By monitoring 100,000 stars over a four-year mission, Kepler could detect up to 500 Earth-sized planets and up to 1000 Jupiter-sized planets. NASA Ames Research Center $286 million.

  • Planck - ESA 2007
    Largest image space telescope will look for light from Big Bang. Instruments: Primary 3.5 m mirror. Will be launched to orbit Sun-Earth L2 point together with:
    Herschel (was Far InfraRed and Submillimeter Telescope). Instruments: Primary also 3.5 m supercooled aperture. One of six ESA "Cornerstone" missions. 369M euros for both.

  • SAFIR - USA 2008?.
    Single Aperture Far InfraRed; 8-meter complement to NGST. Est. $300M.

  • Pathfinder - USA 2008-2011.
    Two spacecraft separated by 500 km, containing X-ray interferometers on 1.4 m baseline. Resolution ~ 1000X Hubble.

  • NGST - USA/ESA 2009.
    Next Generation Space Telescope. 8-meter mirror for visible & near IR. $2B. Will be stationed at Earth-Sun L2 (1.5M km from Earth). Instruments (3): visible & near IR camera; multi-object IR spectrograph, mid-IR camera-spectrograph.

  • Nexus - USA 2009.
    2.8-meter aperture subscale model of NGST. Will be stationed at Earth-Sun L2 (1.5M km from Earth).

  • Space Interferometry Mission (ST5) - USA 2009+
    Two synthetic optical aperture Newtonian telescopes, prescursor to TPF designed to find extrasolar terrestrial-class worlds. Resolution = 50X FAME, or 1 microarcsecond (also = 800X Hubble). Delayed start from 2001 to 2005. Est. $930M

  • Eddington - ESA 200?
    1-meter telescope to scan stars for planets. Backup mission for ESA in case NGST or LISA don't work out.

  • Constellation X Observatory - USA 200?.
    Fleet of four X-ray telescopes; follow-on to Chandra. Est. $300M.

  • Terrestrial Planet Finder - USA 2011.
    NASA Origins mission. IR interferometer comprised of multiple 3- or 4-meter telescopes in formation, intended to find extrasolar planets with water, oxygen, ozone, methane, or other nonequilibrium biogenic gas signatures in their atmospheres as well as measure temperature within 50 light years. 100X Hubble resolution. Est. $300M

  • Darwin - ESA 2011+.
    Same mission as TPF

  • GAIA - ESA 2012.
    Global Astrometric Interferometer for Astrophysics. Stellar census will measure brightest 1 billion sources in sky. 2700 kg mission launched on Ariane 5 to L2 (Lagrange 2 is on dark side of Earth) in high 1.5 million km Earth orbit.

  • CASIMIR - ESA Physics mission to measure vacuum force.

  • MAXIM - USA circa 2025
    MicroArcsecond X-ray Imaging Mission. Fleet of 32 spacecraft, distributed on 1 km centers, will assemble extremely high resolution images of stellar disks via interferometry and other techniques.

  • Galactic DUNE - ESA no date proposed Galactic DUst Near Earth will collect and analyze interstellar dust.

Notes on Finding Extrasolar Planets

Radial velocimetry: is an indirect detection method measuring doppler shift in primary star's spectrum. This method only sets a lower limit on planet's mass due to random inclination of the target's orbital plane to our line of sight. Probable lower mass limit of radial velocity method for finding extrasolar planets: 0.05 Jupiter ( ~ Neptune). Effectiveness also drops strongly with orbital diameter. Minimum mass discovered so far: 0.25 Jupiter ( ~ 0.80 Saturn).
Astrometry observes induced wobble directly, not indirectly like doppler techniques.
Transit observations indicate size and possible composition of extrasolar planets by measuring magnitude and duration of dimming as well as absorption curve during transit in front of star.
Direct visual observation is very difficult and will require major advances in optical interferometry and adaptive optics. At present, the smallest thing which has been imaged is protoplanetary accretion disks, 20-200 AU in diameter.
See also our list of best candidates for first interstellar missions.

What's Coming to this Page:

Comprehensive list of individual instruments and capabilities (wavelength, aperture, energy, etc.) aboard each observatory. No doubt some more Soviet missions will be added to this list when their objectives clear up. Your comments are welcome: robot@ultimax.com
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