The diagram above (click to zoom) and list below show currently active spacecraft in the Solar System, not including those operating close to the Earth (and I’ve probably missed a few):
- Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, launched in 1977, now heading into the darkness and still reporting back, even though they are over 17 billion km or 16 light-hours away (not shown above).
- Cassini–Huygens, launched in 1997, now in the final stages of its exploration of Saturn (see fact sheet).
- 2001 Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001, and still orbiting Mars.
- New Horizons, launched in 2006, now en route from Pluto to the Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69, which it should reach in January 2019.
- Dawn, launched in 2007, currently orbiting Ceres (image shown above the Earth).
- Akatsuki, launched in 2010, currently orbiting Venus, which it will do until 2018.
- Juno, launched in 2011, currently orbiting Jupiter, which it will do until February 2018.
- Hayabusa 2, launched in 2014, currently en route to asteroid 162173 Ryugu, which it should reach in 2018. It will then take a sample which should arrive back home in 2020 (not shown above).
- ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, launched in 2016, currently orbiting Mars and mapping the Martian atmosphere (the associated Mars lander was lost in 2016).
- OSIRIS-REx, launched in 2016, currently en route to asteroid 101955 Bennu, which it should reach in 2018. It will then take a sample which should arrive back home in 2023 (image shown below the Earth).
In addition to the above, BepiColombo is scheduled to launch for Mercury in October 2018, and SolO is scheduled to launch for the Sun that same month. Also, InSight is scheduled to launch for Mars in May 2018, and Solar Probe Plus is scheduled to launch for the Sun in August 2018.
The Dawn spaceprobe, now orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres, took the lovely photograph above a few days ago (image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA). Click the image to zoom.
And here is a NASA/JPL-Caltech artist’s concept of Dawn’s ion thrusters in action. The xenon ions glow blue:
Meanwhile, the New Horizons spaceprobe is getting closer and closer to Pluto:
This means the pictures are getting better. As New Horizons looks towards Pluto and Charon, we are starting to see hints of surface features:
We can even see colours, although the pictures are still very fuzzy:
The Dawn spaceprobe is hours away from entering orbit around Ceres. This dwarf planet is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture (who is also the origin of the word “cereal”). The above painting of her is by Pierre Mignard, while the photograph of Ceres was taken by Dawn on 25 February. The image below shows a simulated view from the spaceprobe, looking back to Earth.
The Dawn spaceprobe, en route to the dwarf planet Ceres, took the images above on February 19, at a distance of 46,000 km (images processed by NASA to enhance clarity). The image below (click for up-to-date pictures) shows a simulated view from just behind Dawn.
Meanwhile, much further out, on the trajectory shown below, the New Horizons spaceprobe is due to arrive at Pluto in July, and is slowly getting better and better images.
The Dawn spaceprobe is about a month from arriving at the dwarf planet Ceres. The photograph of Ceres above was taken by Dawn a few days ago, at a distance of 145,000 km. Below is a nice (simulated) NASA image of the view looking back at the probe’s planet of origin (click for up-to-date images). I’m looking forward to the pictures we’ll get on arrival!