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Satellite Missions

A Dictionary of Geology and Earth Sciences

Satellite Missions



Centre National d'Études Spatiales (France)


Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (Argentina)


Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt (Germany)


European Space Agency


European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites


Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency


National Aeronautics and Space Administration (USA)


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (USA)


Russian Federal Space Agency


Russian Space Agency


Swedish National Space Board


Space Research Institute (Bulgaria)


Belgian Scientific, Technical, and Cultural Services


United States Department of Defense

The websites below refer to satellite missions described in the main text.

Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitor Satellite (ACRIMSAT) A NASA mission launched in 1978 to monitor total solar irradiance.

Advanced Earth Observing Satellite 2(ADEOS II) A joint CNES, JAXA, NASA, and NASDA mission to study the Earth’s environment, launched in December 2002.

Apollo A NASA programme of missions from 1963 to 1972 to land humans on the Moon and return them to Earth.

Aqua A NASA mission launched in 2002 to study the Earth’s water.

Aquarius A joint CONAE and NASA mission launched in June 2011 to measure sea surface salinity.

A-Train (Afternoon Constellation) A NASA mission of several satellites placed in polar orbit to study Earth-system science.

Aura A NASA mission launched in July 2004 to monitor complex scientific interactions affecting the globe.

Cassini Mission A joint ESA and NASA mission that studied Titan, moon of Saturn, and carried the Huygens probe.

Clementine A joint NASA and USDD mission launched in 1994 to map the Moon.

Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO) A joint CNES and NASA mission to study the role that clouds and atmospheric aerosols play in regulating the Earth’s weather and climate.

CloudSat A NASA mission to further knowledge of atmospheric science.

Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) A NASA mission to make close fly-bys of comets to study their nuclei.

Discovery Program A NASA programme of missions to study asteroids, comets, interstellar dust, Mars, the Moon, and solar wind.

Earth Observing System IEOS) A NASA series of polar-orbiting satellites to study the Earth’s land, atmosphere, and oceans.

Elektro-L A Roscosmos mission launched in 2011 to enable local and global weather forecasting and measurement of the Earth’s magnetic field.

Galileo A NASA mission launched in 1989 to study Jupiter and its moons.

Genesis A NASA mission to study the origins of the Sun and inner planets.

Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) A NASA programme of satellites in geosynchronous orbits to study severe weather.

Giotto An ESA mission launched in 1985 that studied Halley’s Comet.

Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) A joint DLR and NASA mission to accurately map variations in the Earth’s gravity field.

Hayabusa A JAXA mission to research new engineering technologies necessary for returning planetary samples to Earth.

Huygens A joint ESA and NASA probe launched from the Cassini orbiter that landed on Titan, moon of Saturn.

ICESat (Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite) A NASA mission to measure ice sheet mass balance, cloud and aerosol heights.

International Sun-Earth Explorer 3 (ISEE-3) A joint ESA and NASA mission to study the Earth’s magnetosphere.

Jason-1 A joint CNES and NASA mission to study global ocean circulation and its link with atmosphere and climate.

Jason-2 A joint CNES and NASA mission to study ocean current direction and to measure variations in sea surface height.

Landsat A NASA programme of satellites from 1972 to collect visual information about the Earth.

Luna An RSA mission to collect information about the Moon.

Lunar Orbiter A NASA mission to map the Moon prior to the Apollo manned landing in 1969.

Magellan A NASA mission to study and map the surface of Venus.

Mariner A NASA programme of missions that studied Mars, Venus, and Mercury.

Mars 96 An RSA mission launched in 1996 to investigate Mars.

Mars Global Surveyor A NASA mission launched in 1996 to survey and map Mars.

Mars Pathfinder A NASA mission launched in 1996 to study the feasibility of landings on, and explorations of, Mars.

Mars Surveyor NASA missions to map and study the climate of Mars.

Meteor-3M (Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment III) A joint NASA and RSA mission in Sun-synchronous orbit to measure ozone, aerosols, and water vapour in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Meteosat An ESA-launched programme to operate a fleet of meteorological satellites.

Monitor-E An RSA mission to study and map the geology and environment of the Earth.

Muses-C see Hayabusa

Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) A NASA mission to make the first orbital study of an asteroid.

New Millennium Deep Space-1 A NASA probe designed to test new technology.

PARASOL A CNES mission to observe the Earth, in particular the radiative and microphysical properties of clouds and aerosols.

Phobos An RSA mission to study the Sun, Mars, and Phobos, a moon of Mars.

Pioneer A NASA programme of unmanned space probes launched for planetary exploration.

Planet-B (NOZOMI) A Japanese mission to explore the upper atmosphere of Mars.

QuikSCAT A NASA mission that measures near-surface wind speed and direction under all weather and cloud conditions over the Earth's oceans.

Ranger A NASA mission to obtain close-up images of the surface of the Moon.

Rosetta An ESA mission to study the origins of comets.

Sakigake A Japanese mission to send a test spacecraft close to Halley’s Comet, when it last orbited the Earth in 1986.

SeaWiFS (Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor) A NASA mission to provide data on global ocean bio-optical properties.

SELENE (KAGUYA) A JAXA mission to study the Moon’s origins and evolution.

Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE) A NASA mission to study energy reaching the Earth from the Sun.

SPOT (Satellite Pour l'Observation de la Terre) A joint CNES, SNSB, and SSTC mission to provide high-level imagery of the Earth’s surface.

Stardust A NASA mission launched in 1999 to study the comet Wild 2 and to return samples to Earth.

Suisei A JAXA mission launched in 1985 to study Halley’s Comet on its approach.

Surveyor A NASA programme to land a series of probes on the Moon.

Television and Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS) A NASA mission launched in 1960 to determine if satellites could be useful in the study of the Earth.

Terra A NASA mission launched in 1999 to collect data on climate change on Earth.

TIMED (Thermosphere Ionosphere Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics) A joint CNES and NASA mission to study the influence of the Sun and humans on the mesosphere and lower thermosphere ionosphere of Earth’s atmosphere.

TOPEX/Poseidon A joint CNES and NASA mission to measure the ocean topography of Earth.

Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission A joint JAXA and NASA mission to monitor rain over the Earth’s tropics.

Ulysses A joint ESA and NASA mission to study the Sun.

Vega An SRI mission to study both Venus and Halley’s Comet.

Venera An SRI programme to study Venus.

Viking A NASA programme of two missions that landed on Mars in 1976.

Voyager A NASA programme of two missions launched in 1977 to study the planetary systems of Jupiter and Saturn and beyond.

Zond A failed SRI mission that was intended to put a human on the Moon.

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