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ROCKETS: Rocket is a self- propelled device that carries its own fuel and can operate in space. Rockets
produce a force that moves them forward by burning their fuel inside a chamber. It has a nozzle from which
the exhaust gases exit. Thrust is the measurement of backward force to move the rocket forward. Specific
impulse measures efficiency and power of rocket engines.
MISSILES: A flying weapon that has its own engine so that it can travel long distance before exploding.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ROCKETS AND MISSILES: Rocket is an unguided self - propelling device
whereas missile is a guided self – propelling weapon.


CLASSIFICATION OF ROCKETS: Rockets are classified based on thermal, electrostatic and

electromagnetic forces as following:


 A solid-propellant rocket or solid rocket is a rocket with a rocket engine that uses solid
propellants (fuel/oxidizer).
 The earliest rockets were solid-fuel rockets powered by gunpowder;
 Solid rockets are still used today in military armaments worldwide, model rockets and on larger
applications for their simplicity and reliability.
 Since solid-fuel rockets can remain in storage for a long time without much propellant degradation,
and the fact that they almost always launch reliably, they have been frequently used in military
applications such as missiles.
 The parts of solid propellant rockets are Payload, Igniter, Casing, Combustion chamber, Nozzle,
Fins, Throat and Solid propellant.
 The propellant in form of grains is stored in the space for propellant. Fuel and oxidizer are
separated between them.
 When the fuel and oxidizer is mixed, the igniter is used to start up the combustion in combustion
 The exhaust gases flow through the nozzle and the throttle is used to control the flames for
 A convergent-divergent design accelerates the exhaust gas out of the nozzle to produce thrust.
The nozzle must be constructed from a material that can withstand the heat of the combustion gas
flow. Often, heat-resistant carbon-based materials are used, such as
amorphous graphite or carbon-carbon.
 Casing is used to protect the surface from rusting. The shape is streamlined to minimize parasite
and skin friction drag. The casing may be constructed from a range of materials. Cardboard is
used for small black powder model motors, whereas aluminium is used for larger composite-fuel
hobby motors. Steel was used for the space shuttle boosters. Filament-wound graphite epoxy
casings are used for high-performance motors.
 The casing must be designed to withstand the pressure and resulting stresses of the rocket motor,
possibly at elevated temperature. For design, the casing is considered a pressure vessel.
 To protect the casing from corrosive hot gases, a sacrificial thermal liner on the inside of the
casing is often implemented, which ablates to prolong the life of the motor casing.


1. Black powder (gunpowder) propellants

2. Zinc–sulfur (ZS) propellants
3. "Candy" propellants
4. Double-base (DB) propellants
5. composite propellants


1. Rockets – Black Brant, VSB-30, PSLV, Omega

2. Missiles –Jericho, Agni 5


 A liquid-propellant rocket or liquid rocket utilizes a rocket engine that uses liquid propellants.
These engines may have a lower mass ratio, but are usually more reliable, and are therefore
used widely in satellites for orbit maintenance.


 The major components of a rocket engine are the combustion chamber (thrust
chamber), pyrotechnic igniter, propellant feed system, valves, regulators, the propellant tanks,
and the rocket engine nozzle.
 In terms of feeding propellants to the combustion chamber, liquid-propellant engines are
either pressure-fed or pump-fed, and pump-fed engines work in either a gas-generator cycle,
a staged-combustion cycle, or an expander cycle.
 Some designs are throttleable for variable thrust operation and some may be restarted after a
previous in-space shutdown.
 All liquid rocket engines have tankage and pipes to store and transfer propellant. An inert gas
stored in a tank at a high pressure is sometimes used instead of pumps in simpler small
engines to force the propellants into the combustion chamber.
 An injector system is used to start ignition in case of non – hypergolic type.
 A combustion chamber which is very typically cylindrical and combustion takes place here.
 One (sometimes two or more) rocket nozzles are used to exhaust gases at higher thrust.


 Liquid rockets can be monopropellant rockets using a single type of propellant, or

bipropellant rockets using two types of propellant. Tripropellant rockets using three types of
propellant are rare.
 The highest specific impulse chemical rockets use liquid propellants (liquid-propellant
rockets). They can consist of a single chemical (a monopropellant) or a mix of two chemicals,
called bipropellants. Bipropellants can further be divided into two categories; hypergolic
propellants, which ignite when the fuel and oxidizer make contact, and non-hypergolic
propellants which require an ignition source.
 Some of the propellants and their applications are

1. Liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen - used in the Space Shuttle main engines
2. Gasoline and liquid oxygen - used in Goddard's early rockets
3. Kerosene and liquid oxygen - used on the first stage of the large Saturn V boosters in
the Apollo program
4. Alcohol and liquid oxygen - used in the German V2 rockets
5. Nitrogen tetroxide/monomethyl hydrazine - used in the Cassini engines

 As the name implies, ‘Hybrids’ are a cross between other types of rocket motor, in particular,
liquid fueled rockets and solid fuel rockets. They were conceived to overcome the
complexities of liquid bi-propellant engines and the lack of controllability of solid rocket
 As with the other types of rocket, the idea is very simple, and the execution of the technology
has proven to be quite difficult.
 The basic idea is to inject a liquid oxidizer into a fuel grain that consists only of fuel, and that
cannot sustain combustion on its own. The motor is controlled (throttled up and down or shut
off) by controlling the flow of liquid oxidizer into the combustion chamber. Typically the
combustion chamber is a long cylinder lined with a fuel composed of hydrocarbons (HTPB,
kerosene, plastics of various types, amongst many other possibilities).
 The oxidizer is admitted through a small orifice (Injector) at the input end, an igniter
(pyrotechnic or electrical) is used to start the burn, and the oxidizer consumes the surface of
the fuel grain. In the case of paraffin or hydro-carbon-wick fuel grains, the fuel evaporates
into the center of the chamber and is burnt there. The vast majority of hybrid rockets have
been used in amateur rocketry and are very popular amongst enthusiasts.


 A nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) is a type of thermal rocket where the heat from a nuclear
reaction, often nuclear fission, replaces the chemical energy of the propellants in a chemical
 In an NTR, a working fluid, usually liquid hydrogen, is heated to a high temperature in
a nuclear reactor and then expands through a rocket nozzle to create thrust.
 The external nuclear heat source theoretically allows a higher effective exhaust velocity and
is expected to double or triple payload capacity compared to chemical propellants that store
energy internally.
 Solid core nuclear reactors have been fueled by compounds of uranium that exist in solid
phase under the conditions encountered and undergo nuclear fission to release energy.
 The pulsed nuclear thermal rocket is a type of solid nuclear thermal rocket
for thrust and specific impulse (Isp) amplification. In this concept, the conventional solid
fission NTR can operate in a stationary as well as in a pulsed mode.
 Liquid core nuclear engines are fueled by compounds of fissionable elements in liquid phase.
A liquid-core engine is proposed to operate at temperatures above the melting point of solid
nuclear fuel and cladding, with the maximum operating temperature of the engine instead
being determined by the reactor pressure vessel and neutron reflector material.
 The final fission classification is the gas-core engine. This is a modification to the liquid-core
design which uses rapid circulation of the fluid to create a toroidal pocket of gaseous uranium
fuel in the middle of the reactor, surrounded by hydrogen. In this case the fuel does not touch
the reactor wall at all, so temperatures could reach several tens of thousands of degrees,
which would allow specific impulses of 3000 to 5000 seconds (30 to 50 kN·s/kg).

 An ion thruster ionizes propellant by adding or removing electrons to produce ions.
 Most thrusters ionize propellant by electron bombardment: a high-energy electron (negative
charge) collides with a propellant atom (neutral charge), releasing electrons from the
propellant atom and resulting in a positively charged ion.
 The gas produced consists of positive ions and negative electrons in proportions that result
in over-all electric charge. This is called a plasma. Plasma has some of the properties of a
gas, but it is affected by electric and magnetic fields. Common examples are lightning and the
substance inside fluorescent light bulbs.
 The most common propellant used in ion propulsion is xenon, which is easily ionized and has
a high atomic mass, thus generating a desirable level of thrust when ions are accelerated. It is
also inert and has a high storage density; therefore, it is well suited for storing on spacecraft.
 In most ion thrusters, electrons are generated with the discharge hollow cathode by a process
called thermionic emission.
 Electrons produced by the discharge cathode are attracted to the dis- charge chamber walls,
which are charged to a high positive potential by the voltage applied by the thruster’s
discharge power supply.
 Neutral propellant is injected into the discharge chamber, where the electrons bombard the
propellant to produce positively charged ions and release more electrons. High-strength
magnets prevent electrons from freely reaching the discharge channel walls. This lengthens
the time that electrons reside in the discharge chamber and increases the probability of an
ionizing event.
 The positively charged ions migrate toward grids that contain thousands of very precisely
aligned holes (apertures) at the aft end of the ion thruster. The first grid is the positively
charged electrode (screen grid). A very high positive voltage is applied to the screen grid, but
it is configured to force the discharge plasma to reside at a high voltage. As ions pass
between the grids, they are accelerated toward a negatively charged electrode (the accelerator
grid) to very high speeds (up to 90,000 mph).
 The positively charged ions are accelerated out of the thruster as an ion beam, which
produces thrust.
 The neutralizer, another hollow cathode, expels an equal amount of electrons to make the
total charge of the exhaust beam neutral. Without a neutralizer, the spacecraft would build up
a negative charge and eventually ions would be drawn back to the spacecraft, reducing thrust
and causing spacecraft erosion.
 The primary parts of an ion propulsion system are the ion thruster, power processing unit
(PPU),propellant management system (PMS), and digital control and interface unit (DCIU).
The PPU converts the electrical power from a power source—usually solar cells or a nuclear
heat source—into the voltages needed for the hollow cathodes to operate, to bias the
grids,and to provide the currents needed to produce the ion beam. The PMS may be divided
into a high-pressure assembly (HPA) that reduces the xenon pressure from the higher storage
pressures in the tank to a level that is then metered with accuracy for the ion thruster
components by a low-pressure assembly (LPA). The DCIU controls and monitors system
performance, and performs communication functions with the spacecraft computer.

 In spacecraft propulsion, a Hall-effect thruster (HET) is a type of ion thruster in which
the propellant is accelerated by an electric field. Hall-effect thrusters use a magnetic field to
limit the electrons' axial motion and then use them to ionize propellant, efficiently accelerate
the ions to produce thrust, and neutralize the ions in the plume. Hall-effect thrusters (based on
the discovery by Edwin Hall) are sometimes referred to as Hall thrusters or Hall-current
 The applications of Hall-effect thrusters include control of the orientation and position of
orbiting satellites and use as a main propulsion engine for medium-size robotic space
vehicles. Another advantage is that these thrusters can use a wider variety of propellants
supplied to the anode, even oxygen, although something easily ionized is needed at the


 The essential working principle of the Hall thruster is that it uses an electrostatic potential to
accelerate ions up to high speeds. In a Hall thruster, the attractive negative charge is provided by an
electron plasma at the open end of the thruster instead of a grid. A radial magnetic field of about
100–300 G (0.01–0.03 T) is used to confine the electrons, where the combination of the radial
magnetic field and axial electric field cause the electrons to drift in azimuth thus forming the Hall
current from which the device gets its name.
 Hall thrusters are largely axially symmetric. This is a cross-section containing that axis.
 The central spike forms one pole of an electromagnet and is surrounded by an annular space, and
around that is the other pole of the electromagnet, with a radial magnetic field in between.

 The propellant, such as xenon gas, is fed through the anode, which has numerous small holes in it to
act as a gas distributor. Xenon propellant is used because of its high atomic weight and
low ionization potential.
 As the neutral xenon atoms diffuse into the channel of the thruster, they are ionized by collisions
with circulating high-energy electrons (typically 10–40 eV, or about 10% of the discharge voltage).
Once ionized, the xenon ions typically have a charge of +1, though a small fraction (~20%) have +2.
 The xenon ions are then accelerated by the electric field between the anode and the cathode. For
discharge voltages of 300 V, the ions reach speeds of around 15 km/s (9.3 mps) for a specific
impulse of 1,500 seconds (15 kN·s/kg). Upon exiting, however, the ions pull an equal number of
electrons with them, creating a plasma plume with no net charge.
 The radial magnetic field is designed to be strong enough to substantially deflect the low-mass
electrons, but not the high-mass ions, which have a much larger gyroradius and are hardly impeded.
The majority of electrons are thus stuck orbiting in the region of high radial magnetic field near the
thruster exit plane, trapped in E×B (axial electric field and radial magnetic field). This orbital
rotation of the electrons is a circulating Hall current, and it is from this that the Hall thruster gets its
name. Collisions with other particles and walls, as well as plasma instabilities, allow some of the
electrons to be freed from the magnetic field, and they drift towards the anode.
 About 20–30% of the discharge current is an electron current, which does not produce thrust, thus
limiting the energetic efficiency of the thruster; the other 70–80% of the current is in the ions.
Because the majority of electrons are trapped in the Hall current, they have a long residence time
inside the thruster and are able to ionize almost all of the xenon propellant, allowing mass use of 90–
 The mass use efficiency of the thruster is thus around 90%, while the discharge current efficiency is
around 70%, for a combined thruster efficiency of around 63% (= 90% × 70%). Modern Hall
thrusters have achieved efficiencies as high as 75% through advanced designs.
 Compared to chemical rockets, the thrust is very small, on the order of 83 mN for a typical thruster
operating at 300 V, 1.5 kW. For comparison, the weight of a coin like the U.S. quarter or a 20-
cent Euro coin is approximately 60 mN. As with all forms of electrically powered spacecraft
propulsion, thrust is limited by available power, efficiency, and specific impulse.
 However, Hall thrusters operate at the high specific impulses that is typical for electric propulsion.
One particular advantage of Hall thrusters, as compared to a gridded ion thruster, is that the
generation and acceleration of the ions takes place in a quasi-neutral plasma, so there is no Child-
Langmuir charge (space charge) saturated current limitation on the thrust density. This allows much
smaller thrusters compared to gridded ion thrusters.


 A magnetoplasmadynamic (MPD) thruster (MPDT) is a form of electrically powered spacecraft

propulsion which uses the Lorentz force (the force on a charged particle by an electromagnetic field)
to generate thrust. It is sometimes referred to as Lorentz Force Accelerator (LFA) or (mostly in
Japan) MPD arcjet.
 Generally, a gaseous material is ionized and fed into an acceleration chamber, where the magnetic
and electrical fields are created using a power source. The particles are then propelled by the Lorentz
force resulting from the interaction between the current flowing through the plasma and the magnetic
field (which is either externally applied, or induced by the current) out through the exhaust chamber.
 There are two main types of MPD thrusters, applied-field and self-field. Applied-field thrusters have
magnetic rings surrounding the exhaust chamber to produce the magnetic field, while self-field
thrusters have a cathode extending through the middle of the chamber.
 Applied fields are necessary at lower power levels, where self-field configurations are too weak.
 Various propellants such as xenon, neon, argon, hydrogen, hydrazine, and lithium have been used,
with lithium generally being the best performer.

 Plasma is a fourth state of matter. When gas is heated to higher temperature, it forms plasma.
 In MPD, xenon gas is given along with radio waves. The radio waves heat the xenon and convert it
into plasma.
 This plasma enters into chamber with electric and magnetic fields.
 The plasma is oriented by magnetic fields and when it passes through the ionization chamber, it
again gets heated and get converted to superheated plasma.
 This gives high specific impulse to these type of rockets.
 Here the thrust produced is lower, so that these type of rockets are launched in space with chemical
rockets and it gets its operation in space.

Pulsed plasma thrusters (PPTs) are high-specific-impulse, low-power electric thrusters.
Pulsed plasma thrusters are ideal for applications in small spacecraft for attitude control,
precision spacecraft control, and low-thrust maneuvers. Ablative PPTs using solid propellants
provide mission benefits through system simplicity and high specific impulse. These systems
exploit the natural properties of plasma to produce thrust and high velocities with very low
fuel consumption.

 Plasma is an electrically neutral gas in which all positive and negative charges -- from neutral
atoms, negatively charged electrons, and positively charged ions -- add up to zero. Plasma
exists everywhere in nature; it is designated as the fourth state of matter (the others are solid,
liquid, and gas).


 The PPT system includes a power source, power processing unit (PPU), energy storage unit,
and the thruster itself. The power source can be any source of electrical power. Solar cells are
generally used, since the thruster operates at low power levels. The PPU converts the
spacecraft power to charge the PPT energy storage unit. The energy storage unit provides
high-current pulses through the thruster to perform work.

 The PPT contains two electrodes positioned close to the propellant source(Teflon). An energy
storage unit (ESU) or capacitor placed in parallel with the electrodes is charged to a high
voltage by the thruster's power supply. The first step for initiating a PPT pulse is ignition.
The thruster's igniter, mounted close to the propellant, produces a spark that allows a
discharge of the ESU between the electrodes to create a plasma. This plasma is called the
main discharge. The main discharge ablates and ionizes the surface portion of the solid
propellant, creating a propellant plasma. This plasma is then accelerated out of the thruster by
the Lorentz force. The Lorentz force is a force created by the interaction of a magnetic field
and an electric current. As the propellant is consumed, a spring forces the remaining solid
propellant forward, providing a constant fuel source.


Missiles are generally classified on the basics of their type, launch mode, range, propulsion, warhead and
guidance systems.

Based on type, it is classified as cruise and ballistic missile.


A cruise missile is a guided missile used against terrestrial targets, that remains in the atmosphere and
flies the major portion of its flight path at approximately constant speed. Cruise missiles are designed to
deliver a large warhead over long distances with high precision. Modern cruise missiles are capable of
travelling at supersonic or high subsonic speeds, are self-navigating, and are able to fly on a non-
ballistic, extremely low-altitude trajectory.

Example: BrahMos-II (600–800 km) is a hypersonic missile currently under development in India and


A ballistic missile follows a ballistic trajectory to deliver one or more warheads on a predetermined
target. These weapons are only guided during relatively brief periods of flight—most of their trajectory
is unpowered, being governed by gravity and air resistance if in the atmosphere. Shorter range ballistic
missiles stay within the Earth's atmosphere, while longer-ranged intercontinental ballistic
missiles (ICBMs), are launched on a sub-orbital flight trajectory and spend most of their flight out of the

Ballistic missiles can be launched from fixed sites or mobile launchers, including vehicles
(e.g., transporter erector launchers (TELs)), aircraft, ships, and submarines

Example: Bramhos.



A surface-to-surface missile (SSM) or ground-to-ground missile (GGM) is a missile designed to be

launched from the ground or the sea and strike targets on land or at sea. They may be fired from hand-held
or vehicle mounted devices, from fixed installations, or from a ship. They are often powered by a rocket
engine or sometimes fired by an explosive charge, since the launching platform is typically stationary or
moving slowly. They usually have fins and/or wings for lift and stability, although hyper-velocity or short-
ranged missiles may use body lift or fly a ballistic trajectory. The V-1 flying bomb was the first operational
surface-to-surface missile.
Contemporary surface-to-surface missiles are usually guided. An unguided surface-to-surface missile is
usually referred to as a rocket

Example: Bina ,Barak-1

A surface-to-air missile (SAM), or ground-to-air missile (GTAM), is a missile designed to be
launched from the ground to destroy aircraft or other missiles. It is one type of antiaircraft system; in
modern armed forces, missiles have replaced most other forms of dedicated antiaircraft weapons,
with anti-aircraft guns pushed into specialized roles.

Example: Raytheon Standard Missile 2


It is launched from ground to target ships in sea.

Example: Gabriel missile


An air-to-air missile (AAM) is a missile fired from an aircraft for the purpose of destroying another
aircraft. AAMs are typically powered by one or more rocket motors, usually solid fueled but
sometimes liquid fueled. Ramjet engines, as used on the Meteor (missile) are emerging as propulsion
that will enable future medium-range missiles to maintain higher average speed across their
engagement envelope.

Example: ASTRA


An air-to-surface missile (ASM) or air-to-ground missile (AGM) is a missile designed to be

launched from military aircraft at targets on land or sea. There are also unpowered guided glide
bombs not considered missiles. The two most common propulsion systems for air-to-surface missiles
are rocket motors, usually with shorter range, and slower, longer-range jet engines. Some Soviet-
designed air-to-surface missiles are powered by ramjets, giving them both long range and high speed.

Example: BrahMos, HeliNa


It is designed to launch from one ship to another.

Example: Gabriel missile(Israel)


It is designed to launch from ship to ground based targets.

Example: Haeseong II(korea)


An anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), anti-tank missile, anti-tank guided weapon (ATGW)
or anti-armor guided weapon is a guided missile primarily designed to hit and destroy heavily
armored military vehicles.
ATGMs range in size from shoulder-launched weapons, which can be transported by a single soldier,
to larger tripod-mounted weapons, which require a squad or team to transport and fire, to vehicle and
aircraft mounted missile systems.

Example: DRDO Anti Tank Missile, Amogha missile,Nag missle



A short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) is a ballistic missile with a range of about 1,000 kilometres
(620 mi) or less. In past and potential regional conflicts, these missiles have been and would be used
because of the short distances between some countries and their relative low cost and ease of


 Agni I 700–900 kilometres (430–560 mi) India

 Prithvi I 150 kilometres (93 mi) India
 Prithvi II 250–350 kilometres (160–220 mi) India
 Prithvi III 350–750 kilometres (220–470 mi) India


A medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) is a type of ballistic missile with medium range, this
last classification depending on the standards of certain organizations. Within the U.S. Department of
Defense, a medium-range missile is defined by having a maximum range of between 1,000 and
3,000 km.


 AgniI(700-900 km) (India)

 Agni II (2,000–3,000 km) (India)


An intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) is a ballistic missile with a range of 3,000–
5,500 km (1,864–3,418 miles), between a medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) and
an intercontinental ballistic missile

Example: agni 3,agni 4


An intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is a guided ballistic missile with a minimum range of
5,500 kilometres (3,400 mi)[1] primarily designed for nuclear weapons delivery (delivering one or
more thermonuclear warheads). Similarly, conventional, chemical, and biological weapons can also
be delivered with varying effectiveness, but have never been deployed on ICBMs

Example: agni 5,agni 6,surya



Solid fuel is used in solid propulsion. Generally the fuel is aluminium powder. It has the advantage
of easily stored. It can reach very high speeds quickly.


It uses liquid as fuel. The fuels are hydrocarbons. The storage of liquid fuels is difficult in missiles.
But liquid fuel gives high specific impulse as compared to solid fuels.


There are two stages in hybrid propulsion- solid propulsion and liquid propulsion. So it has the
advantage of both sysytems.


It attains the compression of intake air by forward speed of missile. The fuel is injected and ignited.
The expansion of hot gases accelerates the exhaust air and gives a push. However, the entering air
should be supersonic.


Here the combustion takes place at supersonic velocity. Hydrogen is normally the fuel used. It is
mechanically simple.

They need specially insulated tanks to allow escape of gas. These engines stores propellants at very
low temperature.



These types store high energy explosives in warhead. Chemicals such as gunpowder and high
explosives store significant energy within their molecular bonds. This energy can be released quickly
by a trigger, such as an electric spark. Thermobaric weapons enhance the blast effect by utilizing the
surrounding atmosphere in their explosive reactions


These warheads store highly radioactive materials. When triggered, they have the power to wipe out



A wire-guided missile is a missile that is guided by signals sent to it via thin wires connected
between the missile and its guidance mechanism, which is located somewhere near the launch site.
As the missile flies, the wires are reeled out behind it (command guidance). This guidance system is
most commonly used in anti-tank missiles, where its ability to be used in areas of limited line-of-
sight make it useful,

Example: swingfire.


Command guidance is a type of missile guidance in which a ground station or aircraft relay signals
to a guided missile via radio control or through a wire connecting the missile to the launcher and tell
the missile where to steer in order to intercept its target. This control may also command the missile
to detonate, even if the missile itself has a fuze

Example: Akash


Terrain Contour Matching, or TERCOM, is a navigation system used primarily by cruise

missiles. It uses a pre-recorded contour map of the terrain that is compared with measurements made
during flight by an on-board radar altimeter. A TERCOM system considerably increases the
accuracy of a missile compared with inertial navigation systems (INS). The increased accuracy
allows a TERCOM-equipped missile to fly closer to obstacles and generally lower altitudes, making
it harder to detect by ground radar.

Example: supersonic low altitude missile.


It constantly measures star angles and compares them with pre-programmed angles on the missile
trajectory. This guidance system directs the control system whenever necessary.


Inertial Guidance uses sensitive measurement devices to calculate the location of the missile due to
the acceleration put on it after leaving a known position. Early mechanical systems were not very
accurate, and required some sort of external adjustment to allow them to hit targets even the size of a
city. Modern systems use solid state ring laser gyros that are accurate to within metres over ranges of
10,000 km, and no longer require additional inputs.

Example: snark


Beam riding is based on a signal that is pointed towards the target. The signal does not have to be
powerful, as it is not necessary to use it for tracking as well. The main use of this kind of system is to
destroy airplanes or tanks. First, an aiming station (possibly mounted on a vehicle) in the launching
area directs a narrow radar or laser beam at the enemy aircraft or tank. Then, the missile is launched
and at some point after launch is “gathered” by the radar or laser beam when it flies into it. From this
stage onwards, the missile attempts to keep itself inside the beam, while the aiming station keeps the
beam pointing at the target. The missile, controlled by a computer inside it, “rides” the beam to the

Example: ADATS


Laser guidance is used by military to guide a missile or other projectile or vehicle to a target by
means of a laser beam (Lidar), e.g. beam riding guidance or semi-active radar
homing (SARH).[7] This technique is sometimes called SALH, for Semi-Active Laser Homing. With
this technique, a laser is kept pointed at the target and the laser radiation bounces off the target and is
scattered in all directions (this is known as "painting the target", or "laser painting"). The missile,
bomb, etc. is launched or dropped somewhere near the target. When it is close enough for some of
the reflected laser energy from the target to reach it, a laser seeker detects which direction this energy
is coming from and adjusts the projectile trajectory towards the source. While the projectile is in the
general area and the laser is kept aimed at the target, the projectile should be guided accurately to the

Example: Sudarshan

Radio frequency and GPS technologies are used in missile technology. A missile uses GPS or RF to
determine the location of target. The weapon uses this information and sends commands to controls
and adjusts its trajectory.



The design of missile configurations is one of the most interesting and challenging fields and perhaps
the most complex for the aeronautical design engineers since it requires a broad knowledge of the
fundamentals of many technical specialties such as aerodynamics, thermodynamics, kinematics,
propulsion, structural design, etc.
A. Sections of a missile
The body of a missile may be divided into three major sections
 The forebody or the nose,
 The mid-section and
 The boat-tail section.
1) The forebody or the nose section
Forebodies may have many varieties of shapes, most common of which are conical, ogival,
power series or hemispherical. These shapes are used primarily on the missiles of supersonic
speeds and are generally selected on the basis of combined aerodynamic, guidance and
structural considerations. Since the pressure or wave drag may be several times that due to
friction at supersonic speeds, careful selection of the nose shape needs attention to assure
satisfactory performance of the overall system.
2) Mid-section
The mid-section in most missile configurations is cylindrical in shape. This shape is
advantageous from the stand point of drag, ease of manufacturing and load carrying
capability. It is known that the total reaction of the missile at any instant has two
components, the lift and drag. These may be positive or negative. It becomes desirable to
have a greater lift than the drag and this can be done by using a curved surface. Angle of
attack is the direction of the reaction force with respect to the free stream direction. Even at
zero angle of attack, some lift can be obtained by using airfoil sections. The effect of mid-
section or after body extension on the aerodynamic characteristics of the conical and ogival
nose bodies have been investigated and it is seen that the effect of after body extension is to
increase the lift coefficient and move the centre of pressure toward aft end as a result of body
carry over and viscous cross-flow effects.
3) Boat-tail section
Boat-tail is the tapered portion of the aft section of a body. The purpose of the boat-tail is to
decrease the drag of a body which has a „squared off‟ base. By „boat-tailing‟ the rear
portion of the body, the base area is reduced and thus a decrease in base drag may be
partially nullified by the boattail.
When a missile travels through air it is affected due to some forces and the direction air flow passing
through it. The study of these characteristics is known as missile aerodynamics. The forces acting on
it may be classified into two general types, they are  Forces generated due to air friction and 
Those due to pressure.
In the first type the force (drag), is created by the shearing action of the air due to its viscosity and
the latter by differences in surface pressures which result in creation of both lift and drag forces. In
supersonic missile design studies it is more convenient to consider normal forces, i.e., forces
perpendicular to the missile axis, in the place of lift forces. The reason for this is that the component
section and aerodynamic lifting surfaces are generally symmetrical about the longitudinal axis or
chord wise centre line, the resultant aerodynamic pressure forces on these symmetrical sections are
thus normal to the longitudinal axis or wing chord.



 The Indian Space Research Organisation is the space agency of the Government of India
headquartered in the city of Bangalore.
 Its vision is to "harness space technology for national development while pursuing space science
research and planetary exploration.
 Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) established in 1962 by the efforts
of independent India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his close aide and scientist
 It is managed by the Department of Space, which reports to the Prime Minister of India.


 ISRO built India's first satellite, Aryabhata, which was launched by the Soviet Union on 19 April
1975. It was named after the Mathematician Aryabhata.
 In 1980, Rohini became the first satellite to be placed in orbit by an Indian-made launch vehicle,
 ISRO subsequently developed two other rockets: the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) for
launching satellites into polar orbits and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) for
placing satellites into geostationary orbits. These rockets have launched numerous communications
satellites and earth observation satellites.
 ISRO sent one lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, on 22 October 2008 one Mars orbiter, Mars Orbiter
Mission, which successfully entered Mars orbit on 24 September 2014, making India the first
nation to succeed on its first attempt, and ISRO the fourth space agency in the world as well as the
first space agency in Asia to successfully reach Mars orbit.]
 In 2008 India launched as many as 11 satellites, including nine from other countries and went on to
become the first nation to launch 10 satellites on one rocket.
 In January 2014, ISRO successfully used an indigenous cryogenic engine in a GSLV-D5 launch of
the GSAT-14.
 On 18 June 2016 ISRO successfully set a record with a launch of 20 satellites in a single payload,
one being a satellite from Google.
 On 15 February 2017, ISRO launched 104 satellites in a single rocket (PSLV-C37) and created a
world record.
 ISRO launched its heaviest rocket, Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III (GSLV-
Mk III), on 5 June 2017 and placed a communications satellite GSAT-19 in orbit. With this launch,
ISRO became capable of launching 4 ton heavy satellites.
 Vikram Sarabhai, first chairman of INCOSPAR, which would later be called ISRO.
 The Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was set up in 1962 by
Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister.
 The prime objective of ISRO is to develop space technology and its application to various
national tasks.
 The Indian space programme was driven by the vision of Vikram Sarabhai, considered the
father of the Indian Space Programme.
 To play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations.”
 India's economic progress has made its space program more visible and active as the country
aims for greater self-reliance in space technology


1. Research facilities.
2. Test facilities.
3. Construction and launch facilities.
4. Tracking and control facilities.
5. Human resource development.

Balasore Rocket Launching Station (BRLS) – Odisha
 ISRO Inertial Systems Unit (IISU) – Thiruvananthapuram
 Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS)

The Satellite Launch Vehicle, usually known by its abbreviation SLV or SLV-3 was a 4-stage solid-
propellant light launcher. It was intended to reach a height of 500 km and carry a payload of 40 kg. Its first
launch took place in 1979 with 2 more in each subsequent year, and the final launch in 1983. Only two of its
four test flights were successful.
The Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle, usually known by its abbreviation ASLV was a 5-stage solid
propellant rocket with the capability of placing a 150 kg satellite into Low Earth Orbit. This project was
started by the ISRO during the early 1980s to develop technologies needed for a payload to be placed into a
geostationary orbit. Its design was based on Satellite Launch Vehicle. The first launch test was held in 1987,
and after that 3 others followed in 1988, 1992 and 1994, out of which only 2 were successful, before it was


The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, commonly known by its abbreviation PSLV, is an expendable launch
system developed by ISRO to allow India to launch its Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites into Sun
synchronous orbits. PSLV can also launch small satellites into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The
reliability and versatility of the PSLV is proven by the fact that it has launched, as of 2014, 71
satellites/spacecraft (31 Indian and 40 foreign) into a variety of orbits. The maximum number of satellites
launched by the PSLV in a single launch is 104, in the PSLV-C37 launch on 15 February 2017.


The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, usually known by its abbreviation GSLV, is an expendable
launch system developed to enable India to launch its INSAT-type satellites into geostationary orbit and to
make India less dependent on foreign rockets. At present, it is ISRO's second-heaviest satellite launch
vehicle and is capable of putting a total payload of up to 5 tons to Low Earth Orbit. The vehicle is built by
India, originally with a cryogenic engine purchased from Russia, while the ISRO developed its own
cryogenic engine.The first version of the GSLV (GSLV Mk.I), using the Russian cryogenic stage, became
operational in 2004, after an unsuccessful first launch in 2001 and a second, successful development launch
in 2003.


GSLV-Mk III is a launch vehicle. It is capable to launch four tonne satellites into geosynchronous transfer
orbit. GSLV-Mk III is a three-stage vehicle with a 110 tonne core liquid propellant stage (L-110) flanked by
two 200 tonne solid propellant strap-on booster motors (S-200). The upper stage is cryogenic with a
propellant loading of 25 tonne (C-25).


It is the space agency of the Government of India headquartered in the city of Bangalore. Its vision is to
"harness space technology for national development while pursuing space science research and planetary

ISRO has well laid plan for future activities in moving towards –
•Augmenting our constellation of Navigation Satellites;
•Building capabilities to explore universe;
•Sustaining the vibrant application programme to touch everybody’s, every day’s life and to ensure
stable use of Outer Space.
•Space Debris mitigation guidelines are followed in lift off, trajectory, spacecraft injection and
orbital phases, and in monitoring the re-entry of spent stages. .

 The indian space programme has the primary objective of developing space technology and
application programmes to meet the developmental needs of the country.
 It has made remarkable progress towards building the space infrastructure.
 ISRO is commited to provide the satellite based navigation services to meet the emerging
demands of civil aviation requirements.

ISRO plans to launch a number of new-generation earth observation satellites in the near future. It will
also undertake the development of new launch vehicles and spacecraft. ISRO has stated that it will send
unmanned missions to mars and near-earth objects.

1. Rocket Name
• GSLV Mk II - December 2017
• PSLV - 06 March 2018

2. Satellite Name
• GSAT-11

3. Future Extraterrestrial exploration.

Moon Chandrayaan-2 GSLV Mk-II
Sun Aditya-1 PSLV-XL
Venus Indian Venusian orbiter mission PSLV-XL
Mars Mangalyaan 2 GSLV III

 ISRO has a splendid history of achievements that has propelled India into the Space Age.
 On February 15, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched the PSLV-
C37, ISRO has pushed a whopping 104 satellites into orbit, a new world record.
 In addition to these success, ISRO has planned for many upcoming missions which are in progress
which will be launched in the coming years.


India’s second mission to the Moon is an advanced version of the previous Chandrayaan-1 mission.
It consists of an Orbiter, Lander and Rover configuration. It is planned to be launched as a
composite stack into the Earth Parking Orbit (EPO) of 170 X 18,500 km by GSLV-Mk II. India
is planning to launch Chandrayaan-2 by 2018.

PURPOSE: The wheeled rover will move on the lunar surface and will pick up soil or rock samples
for on-site chemical analysis. The data will be relayed to Earth through the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter.
The science goals of the mission are to further improve the understanding of the origin and evolution
of the Moon.
ADITYA (2019-20)
ISRO plans to carry out a mission to the Sun by the year 2019-20 – the probe is named as Aditya-1.
It is the First Indian based Solar Coronagraph to study solar Corona in visible and near IR bands.
Launch of the Aditya mission was planned during the high solar activity period in 2012 but was
postponed due to the extensive work involved in the fabrication and other technical aspects. The
Aditya-1 mission was conceived as a 400kg class satellite carrying one payload, the Visible
Emission Line Coronagraph (VELC) and was planned to launch in a 800 km low earth orbit.

PURPOSE:The main objective is to study the Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) and consequently the
crucial physical parameters for space weather such as the coronal magnetic field structures, evolution
of the coronal magnetic field etc.


The Indian human Spaceflight programme is a proposal by ISRO to develop and launch a two-
person crew to low Earth orbit. Reports indicate that their human spaceflight will occur after 2017,
on a GSLV-Mk III, as the mission is not included in the government’s 12th five-year plan (2012–
2017). India’s First Manned Space Mission is being planned in 2021 by the ISRO. A manned
mission could be the next big leap.

MANGALYAAN 2(2021-2022)
The next Mars mission will likely be launched in 2021-2022, have a less elliptical orbit around the
red planet and could weigh seven times more than the first mission. The Principal Investigator of
the proposal should be (i) able to provide necessary details of the instrument that can address the
scientific problems and (ii) capable of bringing together the instrument team and lead the team for
developing a space qualified instrument. The payload capability of the proposed satellite is likely to
be 100 kg.

AVATAR (Aerobic Vehicle for Transatmospheric Hypersonic Aerospace transportation) is a concept
for manned single stage reusable spaceplane capable of horizontal take off and landing.The mission
concept is for low-cost military and commercial satellite space launches.

The first scaled down tests were conducted in 2016,and the first manned AVATAR flight is proposed
for 2025.


1. Akatsuki

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launched Akatsuki (“Dawn”), a meteorological

satellite, in 2010. It arrived at its destination, Venus, later that year. Space exploration is hard,
though, and due to an engine problem, the probe failed to enter Venus’s orbit.

On average, it takes about eight minutes for a radio signal to reach Venus from Earth. (Sometimes
it’s shorter; sometimes it’s longer. It just depends on where the planets are.) Anything sent such vast
distances, then, has to be somewhat self-sufficient. Not only did JAXA have to deal with that delay,
but once Akasuki reached the Cloud Planet and began its maneuver into orbit, the probe had to enter
a total communications blackout—it was, for a time, on the other side of the planet with no way for
signals to reach Earth. Once communications were reestablished, J AXA learned that orbital
maneuvers failed, the probe shot past Venus, and the system went into a kind of holding pattern.
(Even in their setbacks, space probes are designed to be resilient and cunning.)

The bad news was that physics were no longer on the probe’s side and another try at Venus was
impossible; entering orbit is typically a one-shot deal. The good news? Engineers are geniuses. They
discovered that while its main engine was shot, its little thrusters were OK —so they put Akatsuki
into hibernation mode and a heliocentric orbit (i.e. around the Sun), and the waiting game began.
Rather than try to chase down Venus, they decided, why not just let Venus and Akatsuki chase down
each other? The two will again line up in late 2015, at which point another attempt at establishing
orbit will be made. It’s risky—this is the first time the thrusters have ever been used in such a way.
But if it works, humanity’s understanding of the weather and volcanism of our “sister planet” will
increase greatly.

2. Juno

NASA launched Juno in 2011 as part of its New Frontiers program. Its mission: to fly to Jupiter and
figure out how the planet was formed, what it’s made of, and how its formation affected that of the
Solar System. (Actually, any information about Jupiter would be nice. The whole planet is a great
big mystery.)

The real story begins 4.6 billion years ago, when a giant nebula suffered a gravitational collapse.
The resulting bedlam coalesced to form the Solar System. Jupiter is key to understanding how this
happened because it was likely the first planet to form. It is thus made of the same material as that
nebula. In other words, Juno is on a scientific odyssey to the origin of the Solar System. If we can
figure out Jupiter, we might be able to figure out where we came from. The probe should arrive at
Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

3. Dawn

NASA, ever faced with budgetary woes from a state devoid of imagination or ambition, was forced
to more or less cancel the Dawn mission in 2003, 2005, and 2006. Undaunted, today the orbiter is
four months away from Ceres (the largest object in the asteroid belt), having already sp ent 14
months orbiting Vesta (the second-largest). Dawn was launched into space in 2007 and has since
been stacking up “firsts” in space exploration. According to NASA, it’s the first “purely scientific”
probe powered by ion thrusters. It’s the first probe to visit Vesta, and thus the first probe to visit a
protoplanet. It’s set to be the first to visit Ceres, and if it achieves orbit with that dwarf planet
(another first!), will be the first probe to orbit two bodies in a single mission. And it’s the first
prolonged mission in the asteroid belt.

Why does the mission matter? During the formation of the Solar System, cel estial dust merged into
clusters, which merged into rocks, which merged into planets. Vesta and Ceres should have been
right there alongside Earth, Venus, Mars, etc., in our sixth -grade light bulb diorama, but they
couldn’t quite make the jump to planet-hood. The reason: Jupiter, and its incredible large gravity
well. That’s great news for us. These proto-planets—one rocky and the other icy—are more or less
windows into the past, and by studying them, we can fill in the blanks on the history and makeup of
the Solar System. Dawn will arrive at Ceres in April.

4. New Horizons

Nine years ago, NASA launched space probe New Horizons as part of its New Frontiers program.
(New Frontiers, according to NASA, “sends cost effective, mid-sized spacecraft on missions that
enhance our understanding of the solar system.” See: Juno, above.) First, a little stellar cartography:
if we were to draw a simplified version of the Solar System as a series of concentric rings, it would
start with the Sun at the center. Next would be Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, which make up the
“inner” or “terrestrial” planets. Moving outward: separating Mars and Jupiter is the asteroid belt
(home to proto-planets Pallas, Ceres, and Vesta). Beyond the asteroid belt are Jupiter, Saturn,
Uranus, and Neptune, which are collectively known as the “outer planets” (or “gas giants”). The
outer planets are really, really big. (Ganymede, for example, one of Jupiter’s moons, is only a bit
smaller than Mars. Europa, another of Jupiter’s moons, harbors the best chance of extraterrestrial
life in the Solar System. These are really exciting places.) Beyond the outer planets is yet another
belt—the Kuiper Belt (of which Pluto is a part)—that consists of bodies called “volatiles,” which
are frozen gasses. Beyond the Kuiper Belt is Eris, which was initially called the tenth planet, but is
now characterized as a dwarf planet (to the relief of astrologers everywhere). The n we have the Oort
Cloud, which is kind of a shell of comets that surrounds the Solar System.

New Horizons launched in 2006 for a date with Pluto, the only planet (well, it was still a planet
when we launched it) that we haven’t explored. In 2007, the spacecraft used Jupiter’s gravity to
sling it into space with a bit more speed (a “bit more” defined here as an increase of 9000 miles per
hour). Because NASA never wastes an opportunity, during this time New Horizons captured four
months’ worth of Jupiter imagery and atmospheric data. The probe also crossed paths with asteroid
132524 APL, returning images and composition data.

Next year, the probe will reach Pluto and its moon, Charon. The expected scientific returns are
enormous. As Alan Stern of the New Horizons project said in a news conference, “Everything that
we know about the Pluto system today could probably fit on one piece of paper.” That’s about to
change in a big way. So far, things are looking good. On December 6, 2014, mission control sent
orders to the probe to “wake up,” which it promptly did. New Horizons should return some thrilling
data—beginning next year, the quality of images it captures will begin to exceed th ose of the
Hubble Space Telescope. Its primary mission will be to determine the geology, chemical
composition, and atmospheres of Pluto and Charon. In 2016, it’s on to the Kuiper Belt for further
exploration. How long-term is the New Horizons mission? If things go well, the probe might still
have power into the 2030s, returning data on Kuiper Belt objects as well as the outer heliosphere.

5. Rosetta

Historians will one day hail 2014 as a pivotal year in space exploration —the year the European
Space Agency landed a robot on a comet. It wasn’t easy—the mission required four gravity assists
to reach the comet, including one that took it a perilous 150 miles from the surface of Mars. Once it
reached its target, scientists and engineers had to land a tiny probe onto a 2.5-mile-wide
comet traveling at 84,000 miles per hour—at a distance of 317 million miles. (For comparison, a
bullet only travels 1700 miles per hour.)

The Rosetta mission didn’t end when the Philae probe landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov -
Gerasimenko, sent back volumes of data, and went dark. It continues even now. The Rosetta
spacecraft is functioning optimally, and has settled into the “comet escort phase” of the operation. It
will continue returning images and data of the comet as it approaches the Sun. The closer it gets, the
more exciting things will be, as the heated comet will begin releasing frozen gasses and form an
atmosphere of sorts around its nucleus. Rosetta will be there, studiously taking notes and collecting
samples. It will also be on alert for any signals emanating from the comet’s surface —it’s possible
that as the comet approaches the Sun, Philae will wake up and resu me sending data for analysis. Not
bad for technology that precedes the iPhone by several years.

6. Cassini
Cassini is a good place to start. In 1997, a joint NASA-ESA-ASI (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana—Italy’s
space agency) spacecraft was launched into space with Saturn as its target. When Saturn and Earth
are at their closest, they’re still 750,000,000 miles apart. Part 1 of the mission was to get there,
which just shouldn’t be possible for a species that only learned to safely send an object into
space 57 years ago. Along the way, the spacecraft took photographs of the Solar System, including
the most detailed photo of Jupiter ever captured. (That wasn’t even the mission—it was just
something scientists did because the Xbox hadn’t yet been invented and they needed some way to
pass the time.) Four years after launch, scientists noticed that the probe’s camera was hazy. They
had to work out a way to clean the lens from millions of miles away. They were successful. In
October 2003—a year and a half later, and still seven months before the probe would reach Saturn —
Cassini went ahead and confirmed Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

Cassini arrived in the Saturn system in May 2004 and started collecting data on the planet and its
moons. In December, it launched a probe called Huygens, sending it to Titan, one of Saturn’s
moons. It arrived at the moon a couple of weeks later, where it safely parachuted to the surface,
and returned data and photographs (at a distance of 750,000,000 miles away from Earth). Huygens
holds the record for the farthest distance we’ve safely landed a spacecraft.

The mission didn’t end there. Cassini continued collecting data and stunning imagery of Saturn and
its moons. In 2005, the spacecraft made a daring run at Enceladus and discovered that the Saturnian
moon is venting geysers of water and ice into space. In 2008, Cassini’s mission was extended, and it
collected samples from Enceladus’s geysers. In 2010, even though it had logged a total of 2.6 billion
miles, Cassini’s mission was again extended because the thing just won’t quit. Through 2017, the
spacecraft has hundreds of flybys and orbits planned. In other words, nine years after the craft’s
shutdown date, it will still be expanding our understanding of the Solar System.

7. Hayabusa 2

JAXA’s Hayabusa 2 mission has a modest goal: to help determine the origin of life. Last week,
Mitsubishi H-IIA rockets shot the probe into space, where it is scheduled to rendezvous with the
inelegantly named (162173) 1999 JU3 asteroid in 2018. Here’s the plan: Once Hayabusa 2 reaches
the asteroid, it will release three small, hopping sensors to its surface to collect data. It will also
release five landing beacons, which the spacecraft will use to touch down on the asteroid and collect
a sample. Easy, right? Just wait. Then the craft will lift off and release an “impactor” floating in
space. Meanwhile, Hayabusa-2 will fly to the other side of the asteroid. Why? Because the impactor
will ignite into a missile and bomb the asteroid. Hayabusa-2 will then fly back to the impact point
and collect a new, much deeper sample from the giant hole it created. A deployable camera will
capture the whole thing. In 2020, it will return to Earth will a bunch of samples of the asteroid’s
surface and insides. The material and data it collects will help scientists continue piecing together
what happened 4.6 billion years ago when the Solar System formed.

8. Pioneer 10 & Pioneer 11

To be clear, Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 are no longer returning information to Earth, but the probes
are still on a mission as interstellar ambassadors. Pioneer 10 was launched in 1972 and sent on a
“planetary grand tour.” It was the first spacecraft to pass through the asteroid belt (an astounding
achievement—just think about it for a minute) and the first to get close-ups of Jupiter. It measured
things like the planet’s magnetosphere (important because Jupiter’s magnetosphere is the largest
continuous entity in the Solar System) and it determined that Jupiter is essentially a liquid planet.
(These are things that “everybody knows” today, but we only know it because of this probe!) Eleven
years after launch, it became the first spacecraft to pass Pluto, and then Neptune, and became the
first probe to leave the Solar System. Until its final transmission in 2003, it returned information on
solar wind and cosmic rays. Today it continues on a course heading for the star Aldebaran, which it
should reach in two million years.

Pioneer 11 was launched in 1973 with the purpose of studying the asteroid belt, which is a pretty
harrowing barrier between Earth and the outer planets. Like its big brother, it also studied Jupiter
before collecting volumes of data on the Saturn system. NASA lost contact with the probe in 1995.
Today it continues its voyage to the constellation Scutum, whose largest star is more or less
44,100,000,000,000,000 miles away.

Though we’re no longer receiving signals from either Pioneer spacecraft, when we talk about long
term planning, these probes are not kidding around. At the behest of astrophysicist Carl
Sagan, mounted to both probes are plaques, each depicting a man and woman (with an illustration of
the spacecraft for scale); a map of the Solar System; our location in the galaxy; and an illustration
of hydrogen atoms. In other words, the Pioneer spacecraft are the first interstellar ambassadors of
humanity. Should an extraterrestrial species discover the probes, th ey will know who we are, where
we live, and what we know.

9. Voyager 1

Like the Pioneer spacecraft, Voyager 1 was designed, and sent, to study the outer planets. On
September 5, 1977, it launched from Cape Canaveral, with a full array of sensors and sophisticated
communications equipment on board. Sixteen month later, it began observing the Jovian system.
Some of the most famous and recognizable photographs of Jupiter and Saturn came from Voyager
1’s cameras. (Check out this compelling and strangely unnerving video at the Planetary Society.)
Among its discoveries are the volcanoes on Io, Jupiter’s moon; the atmospheric composition of
Saturn and its wild windstorms below; and the surface diameter of Titan. Voyager 1 then continued
on its way toward the outer reaches of the Solar System.

In 1990, Voyager 1 took the first “family portrait” of the Solar System, including the famed “pale
blue dot” photograph of Earth. In 2004, Voyager 1, still diligently sending back data, registered
“termination shock”—the slowing of solar winds. The following year, scientists concluded that it
had entered the heliosheath—a turbulent area where weak solar winds from the Sun meet with
interstellar space.

Thirty-three years after its launch, in 2011, scientists decided to test Voyager 1’s maneuverability.
After a successful test roll, the craft was oriented so as to better measure solar winds (or the lack
thereof). On August 25, 2012, Voyager 1 entered interstellar space, placing it outside of our star
system (indeed, any star system)—the first manmade object to do so. In 300 years, it will enter the
Oort Cloud. Its sensor equipment will not begin shutting down until 2020, and until the final
instrument goes dark (as late as 2030), it will still be registering and returning data on life in the
interstellar medium.

10. Voyager 2

Voyager 2 is the identical twin of Voyager 1, and actually launched into space three weeks earlier.
(Due to differing trajectories, Voyager 1 would eventually pass Voyager 2 in traveling outward from
the Sun.) The probes had similar missions to study the outer planets, though unlike Voyager 1, this
probe also visited Neptune and Uranus—the only such probe to ever study those planetary systems.
In a way, Voyager 2 is the Captain Cook of space, having discovered 11 of Uranus’s moons. The
probe examined Uranus’s axial tilt and magnetosphere, as well as its unusual rings. Later, when it
reached Neptune, it discovered the planet’s “Great Dark Spot,” and closely studied Triton, one of
Neptune’s moons. In the next few years, it will reach interstellar space. It continues to transmit back
to Earth discoveries, data, and observations.

11. Kepler

When Kepler launched in 2009, the plan was for it to spend three years studying space for other
Earth-like exoplanets in “Goldilocks Zones”: places not too hot, not too cold—hospitable, in other
words, to life. (Considering the state of this planet, it’s probably a good idea to have a few
backups.) So far, the program has identified 3800 exoplanets and verified 960 of them as Earth-
like. According to, “mission scientists expect more than 90 percent of the mission's
candidate planets will turn out to be the real deal.” Kepler even found what astronomers have called
a “second Earth.” NASA’s Exoplanet Archive hosts a comprehensive list of the planets identified by

After completing its primary mission, two of Kepler’s reaction wheels (necessary for precise
orientation) failed, resulting in the need for a new assignment. In 2014, the mission was rechristened
K2, and now, in addition to searching out planets, also observes star clusters and supernovae. To
compensate for the malfunctioning wheels, K2 positions itself so as to use the sun’s rays to balance
it out. In other words, it tilts to a certain angle, and uses the protons bashing into it for balance.
( compares this to balancing a pencil on your finger.) The mission, which even before the
malfunction was slated to end in 2012, is funded and expected to remain in operation at least
through 2016.


One of the problems with being stuck on this slimy mudhole is that scientists can only see what
physics allows them to see. Historically, the only side of the Sun we can wa tch is the side facing the
Earth, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Enjoy whatever angle of the Solar System is visible
through your telescope, because that’s all you’re going to get for a while —and forget about looking
back at Earth.

The Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) intends to change that. Launched in 2006,
STEREO is comprised of two nearly identical satellites, one of which is ahead of Earth’s orbit,
while the other is behind. The result is the first stereoscopic imagery of the Sun. This is enormously
beneficial when tracking solar storms—scientists now have three-dimensional views of ongoing
events without being confined to Earth-based vantage points. Likewise, scientists can now see
what’s happening on the far side of the Sun without relying on inference and extrapolation. That’s
total solar visibility, available to them anytime in 3-D. The STEREO observatories also provide
previously impossible viewing angles of the Solar System—they can even look back at Earth. The
locations of the two observatories can be tracked at any time at NASA’s Stereo Science
Center website. The orbits of the STEREO satellites will keep them away from Earth until 2023.

13. Mars Orbiter Mission

In 2013, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched the Mars Orbiter Mission (or
MOM) and became the fourth space agency to reach the Red Planet. In many ways, the mission is
a shakedown and demonstration of everything the Indian Space Research Organization has achieved
to date, and one of their goals is to test everything from deep space communication to contingency
systems. So far, the mission has been an astonishing success, and a low -cost one at that. At $73
million, MOM is the least expensive Mars mission ever mounted. All of this is thrilling news for
anyone who cares about space travel. Science and exploration are cumulative—the more people and
probes we have up there, the more we’ll learn and the sooner we’ll see humans leaving footprints in
the soil of other worlds. NASA and ISRO have since established a joint working group, and are
planning future collaborative missions. MOM is expected to remain in orbit until at least March

14. Venus Express

The European Space Agency launched Venus Express in 2005 to study the Earth. Well, partially.
The probe arrived at Venus in 2006, at which point it entered orbit and began a 500 -day study of
Venus’s clouds, air, surface—everything, basically. When those 500 days ran out, it began a second
mission. And a third. And a fourth. So far, Venus Express has discovered recent volcanic activity;
an upper atmospheric layer that’s surprisingly cold for a planet otherwise described as a “ red hot
furnace”; and ozone activity similar to that of Earth, which helps us understand both planets'
atmospheres with greater clarity, and gives us new insight into how climate change works.

Venus Express also had a secondary mission: to study Earth. From Venus’s point of view, Earth is
practically a pixel, which is exactly what exoplanets across the galaxy look like from Earth. From
the vantage point of Venus, scientists have been studying Earth and trying to figure out if our planet
is inhabited. If they can “discover” life on Earth, there’s a much better chance they can use the same
techniques to discover life on other planets.

As of today, Venus Express is pretty much out of fuel and awaiting an orbital decay. But because
nobody is sure of the exact moment the fuel will run out and the probe will cease to exist, scientists
continue collecting data and making plans for future observation and analysis.

15. International Comet Explorer

The International Comet Explorer (ICE) launched in 1978 and looks like every space probe ev er
drawn in science fiction pulps from the 1950s. Originally called the International Sun/Earth
Explorer 3, it was directed to use an array of sensors to study the Earth’s magnetosphere and
investigate cosmic rays. Like so many spacecraft, once it achieved its objective, its life was
extended and its mission was changed. In 1982, the probe was renamed the International Comet
Explorer and directed into a heliocentric orbit. There it was directed to rendezvous with Giacobini -
Zinner, a comet first discovered in 1900. In 1985, it crossed into the comet’s tail, gathering data and
sending it home for analysis. The following year, it flew through the tail of Comet Halley.

In 1991, ICE was back in its quiet heliocentric orbit and returned to duty studying cosmic rays. By
1997, though 12 of its 13 instruments were still working, the probe was of little use to NASA, who
donated it to the Smithsonian Museum. (Yes, the probe was still in space at the time. I’m sure
everyone at NASA got a good laugh about that one.)

It took a long time, but the orbits of ICE and Earth finally intersected in 2014. That’s when
NASA discovered a problem. We could still understand the signals that ICE was sending Earth, but
because of radical changes in technology, we had no way of sending information back to ICE. (This
is pretty much the exact plot of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.) As the Goddard Space Center
explained, “The transmitters of the Deep Space Network, the hardware to send signals out to the
fleet of NASA spacecraft in deep space, no longer includes the equipment needed to talk to ISEE -3.
These old-fashioned transmitters were removed in 1999. Could new transmitters be built? Yes, but it
would be at a price no one is willing to spend. And we need to use the DSN because no other
network of antennas in the US has the sensitivity to detect and transmit signals to the spacecraft at
such a distance.”

That, it would seem, was that. (Why can we still talk to Voyager 1, which was launched in 1977, but
not ICE, which launched two years later? Because NASA never stopped talking to Voyager.)
Interestingly, ICE was never even supposed to resume contact with NASA. When the space agency
ended ICE’s mission years earlier, it meant to switch the probe off. It didn’t, thus the 2014 dilemma.
And while this wasn’t exactly an Apollo 13-level crisis, it did present an interesting problem.

Enter a group of space enthusiasts and engineers. They decided to make a go of it, and crowd -
funded an effort to make contact with the abandoned probe. They engineered a relatively
inexpensive radio with open source software, and hooked it up to a satellite dish at the Arecibo
Observatory in Puerto Rico. They picked up the probe’s carrier signal, which was a good sign. They
then sent telemetry data to the probe. They got no response. After a dramati c pause, however, the
probe responded to the request. The team rebooted the probe, and as it continued on its journey, it
again began sending reams of scientific data back to Earth. And best of all, the data can be accessed
by anyone at "A Spacecraft for All."

In September, the probe’s orbit again took it beyond the reach of Earth communications. If the
probe remains in a steady orbit, we will resume contact in 17 years.