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NASA-Global Space Missions for UPSC Exam

Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment

Why in news?

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and European Space Agency (ESA) asteroid researchers and spacecraft engineers have come together to check the progress in the mission which is known as Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA).

Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment UPSC by Legacy IAS Academy


  • An asteroid hit is widely acknowledged as one of the most likely, among all the causes that may eventually cause the extinction of life on Earth,
  • In general, there are two different ways of planetary defence against an asteroid.
  • Blowing up the asteroid before it reaches Earth,
  • Deflecting it off its Earth-bound course by hitting it with a spacecraft.
  • Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA)  aims to study the viability of diverting an asteroid by crashing a spacecraft into its surface.
  • The project aims to deflect the orbit of one of the two Didymos asteroids between Earth and Mars, with an observer craft gauging the effect of the impact more effectively than ground-based observers could manage.
  • The project aims to deflect the orbit of the smaller body through an impact by one spacecraft.
  • NASA is building the Double Asteroid Impact Test (DART) spacecraft for this.
  • Then a second spacecraft will survey the crash site and gather the maximum possible data on the effect of this collision.
  • ESA’s contribution is a mission called Hera, which will perform a close-up survey of the post-impact asteroid.
  • Hera will also deploy a pair of CubeSats for close-up asteroid surveys. This would allow researchers to model the efficiency of the collision.

Artemis- NASA’s next Moon Mission

Why in news?

NASA has announced new plan to establish a permanent lunar presence and put an American on the Moon. The project is named Artemis.


NASA wants to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by the year 2024, which it plans on doing through the Artemis lunar exploration program.

ARTEMIS stands for Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of Moon’s Interaction with the Sun.

The main objective is to measure what happens when the Sun’s radiation hits our rocky moon, where there is no magnetic field to protect it.

Solar Orbiter Mission

Why in news?

Solar Orbiter mission was launched recently.

  • The mission is a collaboration between ESA (the European Space Agency) and NASA.
  • The spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.


  • It will observe the Sun with high spatial resolution telescopes and capture observations in the environment directly surrounding the spacecraft to know how the Sun can affect the space environment throughout the solar system.
  • It also intends to give a better understanding of how stars can affect the space environment throughout the solar system.
  • The spacecraft also will be the first to provide images of the Sun’s poles.

The mapping of Sun’s pole could allow for the first time to observe the concentrated source of solar wind that permeates our solar system.

The solar wind is the mixture of charged particles that are highly concentrated at the poles and beam through our solar system, affecting satellites and electronic devices on Earth.

  • The mission will also study the magnetic environment around the Sun, which in turn will provide information about the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle and its periodic outpouring of solar storms.

Solar Orbiter answer following questions:

  1. What drives the solar wind and where does the coronal magnetic field originate from?
  2. How do solar transients drive heliosphere variability?
  3. How do solar eruptions produce energetic particle radiation that fills the heliosphere?
  4. How does the solar dynamo work and drive connections between the Sun and the heliosphere?


Solar Orbiter follows the Ulysses spacecraft, another collaboration between ESA and NASA that launched in 1990 and also flew over the sun’s poles. Ulysses completed three passes of the sun before its mission ended in 2009, but its view was limited to what it could see from the sun’s equator.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)

  • MRO is a multipurpose spacecraft of NASA designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit.
  • Launched in 2005, it carried instruments for studying the atmosphere of Mars and to search for signs of water on planet.
  • The scientific goals of MRO, according to NASA, are
  1. Search for evidence of past or present life in Mars.
  2. Understand the climate and volatile history of Mars.
  3. To Characterize the geology of Mars.

To accomplish these goals, MRO carries multiple instruments and it has 3 cameras,

  • High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE)
  • Context Camera (CTX)
  • Mars Color Imager (MARCI)

MRO has also has

  • A spectrometer called ‘Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars’ (CRISM),
  • A radiometer called the ‘Mars Climate Sounder’ (MCS), and
  • A radar instrument called ‘Shallow Radar’ (SHARAD).

High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE)

High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE)- A camera aboard Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has captured the image of the InSight lander, which recently touched down on the Red Planet.

High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE):

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) will photograph hundreds of targeted swaths of Mars’ surface in unprecedented detail.

HiRISE operates in visible wavelengths, the same as human eyes, but with a telescopic lens that will produce images at resolutions never before seen in planetary exploration missions.

  • HiRISE also makes observations at near-infrared wavelengths to obtain information on the mineral groups present.
  • These new, high-resolution images will provide unprecedented views of layered materials, gullies, channels, and other science targets, as well as characterize possible future landing sites.

Other Missions to Mars

  • Mars Missions by NASA
  1. Mariner
  2. Mars Resonance Orbiter
  3. Phoenix
  4. MAVEN
  5. In-Sights Lander
  6. Curiosity Rover 
  • Mars Missions by ISRO
  1. Mangalyaan ( Mars Orbiter Mission)

NASA’s InSight Mars Mission

Why in news?

  • NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander touched down on Mars at the end of 2018.
  • It is a two year mission that will study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all celestial bodies with rocky surfaces, including Earth and the Moon, formed.
  • The InSight mission is part of NASA’s Discovery Program (1992).


  • InSight is the first mission dedicated to looking deep beneath the Martian surface.
  • Among its science tools are a seismometer for detecting quakes, sensors for gauging wind and air pressure, a magnetometer, and a heat flow probe designed to take the planet’s temperature.
  • It is being supported by a number of European partners, which include France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA).

Latest Finding

  • Mars trembles more often than expected, but also more mildly. Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates like Earth, but it does have volcanically active regions that can cause rumbles.

Methane in the Martian Air

Why in news?

NASA’s Curiosity rover recently discovered high amounts of methane in the air on Mars, leading to excitement whether this was an indication of life on the Red Planet, or beneath its surface. However, later it was confirmed that the methane had fallen back to usual levels.


The Curiosity rover has found 21 parts per billion of methane, or three times the 2013 finding.

The gas seems to rise and fall with the red planet’s seasons.

Curiosity unfortunately doesn’t have the instruments to determine whether the source of methane is biological or geological. Further, scientists have yet to figure out a pattern for Martian’s transient plumes.

Significance of its discovery on Mars:

Since the time the gas was first detected on Mars, it has been considered a potential biomarker.

Scientists are hoping to detect the source of the gas, and in the process clues that might point to the existence of life on the Red Planet.

NASA Curiosity Mission

  • The Curiosity is the largest and most capable rover ever sent to Mars. It landed on Mars in August, 2012.
  • The purpose of the mission is to find chemical and mineral evidence of past habitable environments on Mars.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe

Why in news?

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe completed a year in service.


  • It is part of NASA’s “Living with a Star” programme that explores different aspects of the Sun-Earth system.
  • The probe seeks to gather information about the Sun’s atmosphere and NASA says that it “will revolutionise our understanding of the Sun”.
  • It is also the closest a human-made object has ever gone to the Sun.
  • During the spacecraft’s first two solar encounters, the instruments were turned on when Parker was about 0.25 AU from the Sun and powered off again at the same distance on the outbound side of the orbit.
  • For this third solar encounter, the mission team turned on the instruments when the spacecraft was around 0.45 AU from the Sun on the inbound side of its orbit.
  • It will turn them off when the spacecraft is about 0.5 AU from the Sun on the outbound side.

New Frontiers program

  • The New Frontiers program is a series of space exploration missions being conducted by NASA with the purpose of researching several of the Solar System bodies, including the dwarf planet Pluto.
  • There are currently three New Frontiers missions in progress.

New Horizons,
 which was launched in 2006 and reached Pluto in 2015, 
Juno, which was launched in 2011 and entered Jupiter orbit in 2016, and 
OSIRIS-REx, launched in September 2016 towards asteroid Bennu for detailed studies from 2018 to 2021 and a sample return to Earth in 2023.

NASA New Horizons

Why in news?

On January 1, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft became the first explorer to fly past the mysterious object- Ultima Thule, located some 4 billion miles from Earth.

  • This is a historic flyby of the farthest, and quite possibly the oldest, cosmic body ever explored by humankind.

Ultima Thule:

Ultima Thule is located in the Kuiper belt in the outermost regions of the Solar System, beyond the orbit of Neptune.

  • It measures approximately 30 km in diameter, and is irregularly shaped.
  • Ultima Thule has a reddish color, probably caused by exposure of hydrocarbons to sunlight over billions of years.
  • Ultima Thule belongs to a class of Kuiper belt objects called the “cold classicals”, which have nearly circular orbits with low inclinations to the solar plane.
  • Ultima Thule will be the farthest world ever explored by humankind, no spacecraft has visited anything so primitive.
  • Pluto is barely in the Kuiper Belt, the so-called Twilight Zone stretching beyond Neptune, Ultima Thule is in the Twilight Zone’s heart.
  • The color of Ultima Thule is expected to be darker than coal, burned by eons of cosmic rays, with a reddish hue.

Kuiper Belt

  • The Kuiper Belt is a region of the Solar System that exists beyond the eight major planets.
  • It is similar to the asteroid belt, in that it contains many small bodies, all remnants from the Solar System’s formation.
  • But unlike the Asteroid Belt, it is much larger – 20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive.
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Juno Mission:

Its mission is to measure Jupiter’s composition, gravity field, magnetic field, and polar magnetosphere.

The objectives of the mission are

1. Determine how much water is in Jupiter’s atmosphere

2. Look deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere to measure composition, temperature, cloud motions and other properties

3. Map Jupiter’s magnetic and gravity fields, revealing the planet’s deep structure

4. Explore and study Jupiter’s magnetosphere near the planet’s poles, especially the auroras – Jupiter’s northern and southern lights.

It has sent new images of volcanic plume on Jupiter‘s moon Io, which is the most volcanic body in our solar system.

Cyclones in Jupiter

  • NASA’s Juno probe was launched in 2016 to reveal the story of Jupiter’s formation and evolution.
  • When Juno first arrived in Jupiter, it discovered giant cyclones encircling the planet’s poles (9 in the north and 6 in the south).
  • Each is nearly as wide as the continental US.
  • It was discovered using data from Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument.
  • It has recently discovered a new cyclone on Jupiter’s South pole on its 22nd flyby of the planet. Now the South Pole has 7 cyclones.


Why in news?

 The US space agency NASA has announced that its asteroid probe OSIRIS-REx set a new record for the closest-ever orbit of a planetary body made by a man-made spacecraft

The recent maneuver has placed the spacecraft into an orbit 680 meters above the asteroid Bennu’s surface for about seven weeks.


OSIRIS-Rex stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer.

OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program, which previously sent the New Horizons spacecraft zooming by Pluto and the Juno spacecraft into orbit around Jupiter. 

Why was Bennu chosen?

Bennu was selected for a the OSIRIS-REx mission from over 500,000 known asteroids, due to it fitting a number of key criteria. These include:

Proximity to Earth: In order for OSIRIS-REx to reach its destination in a reasonable timeframe, NASA needed to find an asteroid which had a similar orbit to Earth.

Size: Small asteroids, those less than 200m in diameter, typically spin much faster than larger asteroids, meaning the regolith material can be ejected into space. Bennu is around 500m in diameter, so rotates slowly enough to ensure that the regolith stays on its surface.

Composition: Bennu is a primitive asteroid, meaning it hasn’t significantly changed since the beginning of the Solar System (over 4 billion years ago). It is also very carbon-rich, meaning it may contain organic molecules, which could have been precursors to life on Earth.

Additionally, Bennu is of interest as it is a Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). Every 6 years, Bennu’s orbit brings it within 200,000 miles of the Earth, which means it has a high probability of impacting Earth in the late 22nd Century.

Voyager 2

  • Voyager 2 is the space probe launched by NASA in 1977 to study the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune).
  • In 2018, It has passed an incredible milestone in its journey to explore the solar system by entering interstellar space (exited the heliosphere).
  • Voyager probes (Voyager 1 and 2) are the first spacecraft to date that humans have sent to this boundary, called the heliopause.
  • Recent developments – Scientists have decoded the signals sent by Voyager 2 from interstellar space.
  • The signals will help scientists paint a clearer picture of cosmic shoreline, where the heliosphere ends, and interstellar space begins.
  • The findings also confirmed that the plasma inside the heliosphere is significantly less dense and less cold than the plasma in local interstellar space.
  • Another surprising revelation was the magnetic field in the region just beyond the heliopause is parallel to the magnetic field inside the heliosphere.

Heliosphere, Heliopause and Interstellar Space

  • The sun creates heliosphere by sending a constant flow of particles and a magnetic field out into space at over 670,000 miles per hour. This stream is called the ‘solar wind.’
  • Heliopause marks the end of a region created by our sun that is called the heliosphere.
  • It is the boundary between our Solar System and the interstellar medium.
  • It is the place where the sun’s constant flow of material and magnetic field stop affecting its surroundings.
  • Interstellar Space is the part of space that exists between stars with cold particles around it.
  • Inside the heliosphere, the solar particles are hot but less concentrated. Outside of the bubble, they are very much colder but more concentrated.
  • Once an object arrives in interstellar space, there would be an increase of “cold” particles around it.


  • Buyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration (BRUIE) is a robot developed by NASA for underwater exploration in extra-terrestrial, icy waters.
  • It will search for life in ocean worlds beyond Earth.
  • It could be used to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus.
  • As these moons are believed to have liquid water oceans beneath thick crusts of ice, they may be the most promising locations in our solar system to search for evidence of extra-terrestrial life.
  • It will be rolling into Antarctica soon to performdriving upside down under sea ice, since they are the closest Earth analog to the seas of an icy moon which makes them an ideal testing ground for it.
  • It uses buoyancy to remain anchored against the ice and is impervious to most currents.
  • NASA is already constructing the Europa Clipper orbiter, scheduled for launch in 2025 to study Jupiter’s moon Europa, laying the groundwork for a future mission that could search for life beneath the ice.


  • Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) is a spacecraft developed by NASA that went into orbit around mars to study the planet’s atmosphere.
  • Mission goals include determining how the atmosphere and water, presumed to have once been substantial, were lost over time.
  • MAVEN was launched aboard an atlas v launch vehicle in 2013 it reached Mars in 2014.
  • Data from maven shows that the deterioration of mars’ atmosphere increases significantly during solar storms.

Dawn Mission

  • Dawn mission was launched by NASAdeploying spacecrafts to study the asteroid Vesta and dwarf planetCeres.
  • It is the only mission ever to orbit two extraterrestrial targets and will characterize the early solar system andthe processes that dominated its formation.
  • Vesta and Ceres are celestial bodies believed to have accreted early in the history of the solar system.
  • Dawn orbited giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months from 2011 to 2012, then continued on to Ceres, where it hasbeen in orbit since March 2015.
  • The spacecraft is likely to run out of a key fuel known as hydrazine which keeps it oriented and in communication with Earth.

Ceres and Vesta

  • Ceres is the earliest known and smallest of the dwarf planet.
  • It is also the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
  • Thus Ceres is both dwarf planet and asteroid.
  • Vesta is the second most massive body in the asteroid belt, surpassed only by Ceres.

Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite

The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is a NASA mission that will look for planets orbiting the brightest stars in Earth’s sky. It was led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with seed funding from Google.

Mission: The mission will monitor at least 200,000 stars for signs of exoplanets, ranging from Earth-sized rocky worlds to huge gas giant planets. TESS, however, will focus on stars that are 30 to 100 times brighter than those Kepler examined. This will help astronomers better understand the structure of solar systems outside of our Earth, and provide insights into how our own solar system formed.

Orbit: TESS will occupy a never-before-used orbit high above Earth. The elliptical orbit, called P/2, is exactly half of the moon’s orbital period; this means that TESS will orbit Earth every 13.7 days. Its closest point to Earth (67,000 miles or 108,000 kilometers) is about triple the distance of geosynchronous orbit, where most communications satellites operate.

How it works? It will use transit method to detect exoplanets. It watches distant stars for small dips in brightness, which can indicate that planet has passed in front of them. Repeated dips will indicate planet passing in front of its star. This data has to be validated by repeated observations and verified by scientists.


CubeSats are miniature satellites intended as a standard, inexpensive design that can easily fit alongside larger satellites aboard launch vehicles.

  • The CubeSat model has given student groups, hobbyist organizations, and research teams operating with limited funding or experience unprecedented access to space.
  • CubeSats are built from a modular structure of 10x10x10cm cubes and feature a wide variety of commercially available off-the-shelf components, designed to fit the structure from various manufacturers.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft

Why in news?

Data from NASA’s Cassini-Huygens spacecraft reveal new information about the lakes on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

  • The small liquid lakes in Titan’s northern hemisphere are more than 100 meters deep, perched atop plateaus and filled with methane. They also appear to be seasonal. And the bodies of liquid on one side of the northern hemisphere are completely different than those on the other side.


Launched in 1997, the Cassini mission — a cooperation between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency — has sent back thousands of stunning images and made numerous discoveries about the ringed planet and its moons.

  • The spacecraft was launched on October 15, 1997. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System.
  • Cassini–Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn.
  • Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit.
  • Its design includes a Saturn orbiter and a lander for the moon TitanThe lander, called Huygens, landed on Titan in 2005.

Objectives of the mission:

  • Determine the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the rings of Saturn.
  • Determine the composition of the satellite surfaces and the geological history of each object.
  • Determine the nature and origin of the dark material on Iapetus’s leading hemisphere.
  • Measure the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the magnetosphere.
  • Study the dynamic behavior of Saturn’s atmosphere at cloud level.
  • Study the time variability of Titan’s clouds and hazes.
  • Characterize Titan’s surface on a regional scale.


Launch of ExoMars rover delayed to 2022.

About the rover:

  • The European-built Rosalind Franklin rover, named for the famed British chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work contributed to DNA research, recently passed final pre-launch thermal and vacuum tests at an Airbus facility in Toulouse, France.
  • Rosalind Franklin is the first European Mars rover.

About ExoMars:

It is a joint endeavour between ESA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.

The primary goal of the ExoMars programme is to address the question of whether life has ever existed on Mars.

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Components of the mission:

The programme comprises two missions.

  • The first launched in March 2016 and consists of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli, an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module.
  • TGO’s main objectives are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes. The Schiaparelli probe crashed during its attempt to land on Mars.
  • The second, comprising a rover and surface platform, is planned for 2022. Together they will address the question of whether life has ever existed on Mars.

Other Mars Missions:

Despite the delay in the second ExoMars launch until 2022, three other Mars missions remain scheduled for launch during this year’s planetary launch window in July and August.

  1. NASA’s Perseverance rover, formerly known as Mars 2020, will take off in July from Cape Canaveral.
  1. Chinese Mars rover is also being prepared for launch later this year.
  2. The United Arab Emirates’ Hope Mars orbiter is slated to launch on a Japanese H-2A rocket this summer.

Hope Probe

Why in news?

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has announced that it will launch the ‘Hope Probe’, the Arab world’s first spacecraft to Mars, in July 2020.


  • The space programme, also known as the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), aims at collecting information on Mars, meteorological layers and study the causes of loss of hydrogen and oxygen gases — the two main constituents of water — from the upper layer of the Martian atmosphere.
  • The mission, if successful, will become the first space exploration programme to take a picture of the Mars atmosphere.
  • The ‘Hope Probe’ will be launched into orbit in mid-July 2020. The spacecraft is expected to reach Mars orbit in the first quarter of 2021, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the founding of the UAE.


Why in news?

  • Tiangong-2 was a manned Chinese space station that was destroyed upon its controlled re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean on July 19.
  • Tiangong-2 was retired from service after it had completed its experiments in space.


  • Tiangong means “Heavenly Palace”. It was 10.4 metres long and 3.35 metres wide at its widest point, and weighed 8.6 metric tonnes.
  • It was launched on September 15, 2016 and, in late 2016, hosted two Chinese astronauts for 30 days in what was China’s longest manned space mission so far.
  • The recently decommissioned space lab followed the Tiangong-1, China’s first space station, which crashed into the southern Pacific Ocean on April 1, 2018 after Chinese scientists lost control of the spacecraft.
  • China had launched Tiangong-1 in 2011 as proof-of-concept of technologies for future stations. The lab was visited by two teams of Chinese astronauts for 11 days and 13 days respectively.


Why in news?

In January, the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-4 — named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology — became the first ever craft to touch down on the far side of the lunar surface.


  • China landed its probe in the Von Karmen Crater in the Aitken Basin at the Moon’s south pole — home to one of the largest impact craters known in the solar system.
  • They detected materials such as olivine and low-calcium pyroxene that are rare elsewhere on the surface. Researchers suggest that these materials were ejected from the Moon’s upper mantle when it was struck by a meteor.

How was moon born?

The most widely accepted theory is that moon was born when a massive protoplanet slammed into young Earth, sending plenty of terrestrial building blocks into orbit around it.

Scientists suspect that the moon was covered in a magma ocean during its very early days. As it progressively cooled and solidified, denser minerals remained in the ocean’s depths while less dense minerals floated to the surface. This meant the geochemical compositions of the eventual mantle and crust layers turned out to be distinct from each other.

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