Space Missions and Instruments

The School of Earth and Space Exploration faculty, scientists, and students are engaged in dozens of active space missions. We lead missions and instruments, build spaceflight hardware, collect and analyze data, and train students to work on scientific space missions exploring planets including Earth, the Moon, asteroids, our solar system and the universe. Below are detailed descriptions of all of our missions in flight and in development with a list of faculty involvement, photos, and links for more information. 

Download a pdf of solar system missions and instruments from the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Missions and Instruments

In Flight

Launched: November 16, 2022

Principal Investigators: Craig Hardgrove and Jim Bell

A 6U CubeSat mission selected by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate to fly as a secondary payload on the first Exploration Mission of the Space Launch System. LunaH-Map will reveal hydrogen abundances at spatial scales below 10 km to understand the relationship between hydrogen and permanently shadowed regions, particularly craters, at the Moon’s South Pole. This is the first ASU-led NASA mission.

To note: Integrated into the NEUTRON-1 3U Cubesat, which launched to the ISS in the Fall of 2020, is the LunaH-Map Mini-NS spare module, which will enable the NEUTRON-1 mission to characterize the LEO neutron environment. NEUTRON-1 will measure the epithermal neutron environment in a set of fixed orientations, which will test out the LunaH-map design in the space environment as well as to collect precursor data for future LEO neutron missions. The mission is led by the Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory and was deployed from ISS in November 2020.

Launched: August 4, 2022

Principal Investigator for Shadowcam: Mark Robinson

The Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s (KARI) Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO) will include the NASA selected ShadowCam, being developed by ASU and Malin Space Science Systems, to map the terrain of the Moon and search for evidence of frost or ice deposits in the Moon’s permanently shadowed regions (PSRs). ShadowCam is an optical camera based on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Narrow Angle Camera, but is more sensitive, allowing the camera to obtain high-resolution, high signal-to-noise imaging of the Moon’s PSRs. The Instrument will be a U.S. contribution to KARI’s KPLO

Launched: December 25, 2021

Co-Investigator: Rogier Windhorst

This mission involves a large, space-based observatory, optimized for infrared wavelengths, which will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope. It will cover longer wavelengths of light than Hubble and will have greatly improved sensitivity. The longer wavelengths enable JWST to look further back in time to see the first galaxies that formed in the early universe, and to peer inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.

An artist's rendering of the Lucy spacecraft in orbit around an asteroid.

Launched: October 16, 2021

Principal Investigator L'TES: Philip Christensen

Lucy Co-Investigator: Jim Bell

The Lucy Mission, selected for NASA’s Discovery Program, will investigate a collection of primitive asteroids that share Jupiter’s 12-year orbit, roughly five times farther from the Sun than Earth. The ASU-designed and -developed L'TES instrument will measure surface temperatures on each asteroid the spacecraft visits. Among the potential targets for an extended mission is asteroid 52246 Donaldjohanson, named for the discoverer of the Lucy fossil and director of ASU's Institute of Human Origins in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Lucy launched from Cape Canaveral on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V. and L'TESL'SPACE and the Lucy in Space Contest

Launched: July 17, 2020 and arrived on Mars: February 18, 2021

Mastcam-Z Principal Investigator: Jim Bell

Co-Investigators: Craig Hardgrove and Mark Robinson

This rover, a NASA Flagship mission, is investigating Jezero Crater, a region of Mars where the ancient environment may have been favorable for microbial life. The rover will collect samples of regolith and rock, and cache them for return to Earth by a future mission. The 2020 rover resembles its six-wheeled predecessor Curiosity, but with an array of new science instruments. Mastcam-Z is a mast-mounted camera system equipped to zoom in, focus, and take 3-D pictures and video at high speed to allow detailed examination of distant rocks and soil.

Launched July 14, 2020 and arrived in Mars orbit February 9, 2021

EMIRS Principal Investigator: Philip Christensen

Hope is the Mars orbiter developed by the United Arab Emirates. Philip Christensen worked with Emirati scientists and engineers to build the infrared spectrometer (EMIRS) for the mission. This instrument measures the global thermal structure of the martian atmosphere and the abundance of water ice, water vapor, and dust in the atmosphere

Launched November 2019

Phoenix CubeSat Principal Investigator: Judd Bowman

The Phoenix CubeSat was designed and built on the ASU Tempe campus and is an undergraduate-run mission. It launched to the International Space Station in November 2019 and deployed in February 2020. This NASA-funded 3U CubeSat was built to study heat islands on Earth. While the cubesat is still alive and the team was able to communicate with it from ASU after deployment, a fault occurred shortly after deployment causing the team to lose the ability to make key commands for scheduling and imaging. Nonetheless, this undergraduate-led team successfully built, launched, and deployed a cubesat into space and we congratulate them for these amazing accomplishments.

Launched October 20, 2018

Co-Investigator on the mission: Craig Hardgrove

Co-Investigator on the Mercury Radiometer and Thermal Infrared Spectrometer (MERTIS) on MPO: Mark Robinson

The mission will perform a comprehensive study of Mercury, including characterization of its magnetic field, magnetosphere, and both interior and surface structure. It has an arrival at Mercury planned for December 2025. The mission comprises two satellites launched together: the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and Mio (Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, MMO).

Launched September 2016

OTES Instrument Principal Investigator: Philip Christensen

OSIRIS-REx Science Team Member: Devin Schrader

Part of NASA's New Frontiers program, OSIRIS-REx arrived at the asteroid 101955 Bennu in fall 2018 to collect samples of its surface regolith. The mission's planned sample collection “touch and go” (TAG) was completed in October 2020 . Bennu is a primitive asteroid that has undergone little change since it formed early in the solar system's history. OTES is the first complex spaceflight instrument to be designed and built at ASU. Its role in the mission is make mineral and temperature maps, and to help the mission select the sample site. This mission is slated to return to Earth in September 2023.

Launched 2014

Science Team Member: Meenakshi Wadhwa

The Hayabusa2 is a Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sample return mission to asteroid Ryugu. It returned to Earth (Australia) in December 2020 with samples from the asteroid. Its mission has now been extended through 2031 when it will rendezvous with the 1998 KY26 asteroid.

Launched November 2011

Mastcam Instrument Principal Investigator: Jim Bell 

Collaborating scientist on the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument: Meenakshi Wadhwa

Participating scientist on the MSL Curiosity rover science team: Craig Hardgrove

Curiosity, a NASA Flagship mission landed in Gale Crater in August 2012. As of Spring 2019, Curiosity has driven 13 miles and is exploring Mt. Sharp in Gale Crater. The Mastcam system has two visible-light cameras, both with autofocus, that provide multiple spectra and true-color imaging.

Launched: June 2009

LROC Instrument Principal Investigator: Mark Robinson

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is orbiting the Moon in an eccentric polar orbit. The LRO Camera (LROC) consists of a Wide-Angle Camera (WAC) and a pair of Narrow-Angle Cameras (NAC). Maximum camera resolution on the lunar surface is about 1 meter. LROC's task is to help identify future human landing sites on the moon, study the light conditions at polar-craters, and answer other lunar geology questions.

Launched: August 2005

Science Team Member (MARCI + CTX): Jim Bell

Science Team Member (CRISM): Mark Robinson

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is seeking the history of water on Mars. The instruments onboard zoom in for extreme close-up photography of the martian surface, analyze minerals, look for subsurface water, trace how much dust and water are distributed in the atmosphere, and monitor daily global weather.These studies are identifying deposits of minerals that may have formed in water over long periods of time, looking for evidence of shorelines of ancient seas and lakes, and analyzing deposits placed in layers over time by flowing water. The mission is examining whether underground martian ice discovered by the Mars Odyssey orbiter is the top layer of a deep ice deposit or a shallow layer in equilibrium with the atmosphere and its seasonal cycle of water vapor.

Launched: June 2003

High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) Co-Investigator: David Williams

Mars Express, so called because of the rapid and streamlined development time, represents ESA's first visit to another planet in the Solar System. The spacecraft borrowed technology from ESA's Rosetta mission and the Mars 96 mission. Since beginning science operations in 2004, the durable orbiter has given scientists an entirely new view of Earth's intriguing neighbor, and is helping to answer fundamental questions about the geology, atmosphere, surface environment, history of water and potential for life on Mars.

Launched: April 2001

THEMIS Instrument Principal Investigator: Philip Christensen

Odyssey Science Team Member: Jim Bell

Odyssey is in a Sun-synchronous 2-hour orbit, currently at a local Martian time of 6:30 a.m. and p.m. THEMIS is a camera working at five visible wavelengths and nine infrared ones. Since arrival, THEMIS has compiled the first global image map of Mars as well as the first global map of the planet's surface properties. Its data was used in deciding where to send the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity). THEMIS data discovered dusty gas jets that erupt above the south polar ice cap each martian spring and is monitoring ground conditions shortly after local sunrise, looking for fogs, frost, and hazes.

Launched: December 1999

ASTER Co-Investigator: Philip Christensen

Odyssey Science Team Member: Jim Bell

Terra is a spacecraft designed to monitor the state of Earth's environment and ongoing changes in its climate system. It carries five remote-sensing instruments including the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), which focuses on land composition.

Launched: December 2023

Co-Investigator: Chris Groppi

This mission will fly an Ultralong-Duration Balloon (ULDB) carrying a telescope with carbon, oxygen and nitrogen emission line detectors. This unique combination of data will provide the spectral and spatial resolution information needed for the team to untangle the complexities of the interstellar medium, and map out large sections of the plane of our Milky Way galaxy and the nearby galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Launched: October 2023

Mission Principal Investigator: Lindy Elkins-Tanton

Mission Deputy Principal Investigator: Jim Bell

Multispectral Imager Principal Investigator: Jim Bell

Co-Investigators: David Williams and Cassie Bowman

The Psyche Mission, selected for NASA’s Discovery Program, is a journey to a unique metal asteroid, Psyche, orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Psyche appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, one of the building blocks of our solar system. Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for mission management, operations and navigation. The spacecraft’s solar-electric propulsion chassis is being built by Maxar. The Psyche Mission, selected for NASA’s Discovery Program, is a journey to a unique metal asteroid, Psyche, orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Psyche appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, one of the building blocks of our solar system. This mission is led by ASU. Jet Propulsion Laboratory is responsible for mission management, operations and navigation. The spacecraft’s solar-electric propulsion chassis is being built by Maxar.

 Launched: April 2023

JANUS Camera System Co-Investigators: Jim Bell and David Williams

This mission, under development by the European Space Agency (ESA), is planned to launch in 2023, arrive at Jupiter in 2029. It will spend at least three years making detailed observations of the giant gaseous planet Jupiter and three of its largest moons, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa.  The payload is capable of addressing all of the mission's science goals, from in situ measurements of Jupiter's atmosphere and plasma environment, to remote observations of the surface and interior of the three icy moons, Ganymede, Europa and Callisto. A remote sensing package includes imaging (JANUS) and spectral-imaging capabilities from the ultraviolet to the sub-millimetre wavelengths (MAJIS, UVS, SWI).

In Development

Launching: February 2024

Mission Science Lead: Mark Robinson

This mission’s objective is to place a lander, called Nova-C, in the Vallis Schroteri region on the Moon. The commercially built lander will carry five NASA payloads and commercial cargo.

Launching: November 2024

Mission Science Lead: Mark Robinson

ASU is partnering with Intuitive Machines on a mini extreme mobility lunar vehicle, called Micro-Nova, that will hop around the Moon’s surface and take the first-ever pictures inside craters of the lunar south pole. The project is funded by NASA. Micro-Nova will provide high-resolution stereo images in areas that are in direct sunlight, which will also enable detailed engineering and science planning for future missions.

Launching: 2023*

Principal Investigator: Evgenya Shkolnik 
Co-Investigators: Judd Bowman and Daniel Jacobs
This spacecraft is a NASA-funded 6U CubeSat being designed at ASU. It is the first-ever mission dedicated to monitoring the high-energy radiation environment of exoplanets that orbit low-mass stars, which are the most common type of exoplanet host-stars. *Due to NASA funding changes, the SPARCS mission timeline has shifted and the team is aiming for a 2023 launch. 

Launching: January 2024

Co-Investigators: Chris Groppi and Philip Mauskopf

This project launched a telescope from Antarctica for 8 hours in early Jan 2020 until a malfunction required the balloon to descend. This project may relaunch in January 2024 for a 28-day balloon flight, carrying instruments designed to investigate star formation

Follow on Twitter: @BLAST_TNG

Launching: 2025

Science Team Members: Phil Mauskopf and Rogier Windhorst 

The SPHEREx mission will survey the sky in optical as well as near-infrared light, which — though not visible to the human eye — serves as a powerful tool for answering cosmic questions. The spacecraft has a small-aperture telescope with a wide field of view to survey the entire sky every six months in orbit. Astronomers will use the mission to gather data on more than 300 million galaxies, as well as more than 100 million stars in our own Milky Way. The mission will create a map of the entire sky in 96 different color bands. It also will identify targets for more detailed study by future missions, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

Launching: October 2024

NASA's Europa Clipper is a flagship robotic mission to investigate whether conditions suitable for life exist at Jupiter's moon Europa. The spacecraft, in orbit around Jupiter, will make about 45 close passes over Europa, shifting its flight path for each flyby to soar over a different location so that it eventually scans nearly the entire moon. After each flyby, the spacecraft will send its haul of data back to Earth. The time between flybys will also give scientists time to study the data and consider adjusting the timing and trajectory of future flybys if they find regions that spark curiosity and need more study.

ASU has involvement in several instruments being designed for this mission including:

Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS) (Phil Christensen, Principal Investigator)

Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding: Ocean to Near-surface (REASON) (Mikhail Zolotov, co-investigator)

SUrface Dust Mass Analyzer (SUDA) (Mikhail Zolotov, co-investigator)

MAss SPectrometer for Planetary EXploration/Europa (MASPEX) (Mikhail Zolotov and Everett Shock, co-investigators)


Launching: 2024 (test flight 2023)

Co-Investigators: Nat Butler, Michael Line, and Jenny Patience 

The EXoplanet Infrared Climate TElescope (EXCITE) utilizes a low resolution 1-4 micron spectrograph to measure emission spectra of hot Jupiters over their full orbits, providing phase resolved spectroscopy.  These spectral measurements probe varying depths in exoplanets atmospheres thus contributing to our understanding of general circulation models, which will provide key insights into atmospheric physics and chemistry. Hot Jupiters provide an ideal laboratory for understanding atmospheric dynamics, which is a stepping stone to understanding the foundation of models which will be needed to search for potentially habitable planets. Funded by NASA, EXCITE will use a commercially available 0.5m diameter telescope pointed with high accuracy and stability using the successful Balloon Imaging Testbed (BIT) pointing platform. The telescope is coupled to a cooled spectrometer made from commercially available components. The combination of these elements results in a unique instrument for exoplanet atmospheric characterization. EXCITE's initial science will result from an Antarctic long-duration balloon flight.

*NASA mission webpage in development*

Launching: 2026

Co-Investigator and Instrument Scientist: Craig Hardgrove 

The Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer (Lunar-VISE) mission will study the surface of the Gruithuisen Domes on the Moon. ASU will be providing NASA with a neutron and gamma-ray spectrometer, that will be mounted on the rover, and will measure the elemental composition and hydration of the surface around the domes down to about a meter (3 feet) into the ground.

Mars Sample Return Lander

Launching: 2026-2028

Principal Scientist: Meenakshi Wadhwa  

The Mars Sample Return program, which is being planned jointly by NASA and the European Space Agency, will return samples collected by the Perseverance rover from the surface of Mars to Earth by way of a Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL) and an Earth Return Orbiter (ERO). Launch dates for both the SRL and ERO missions are anticipated to be in the 2026–2028 timeframe, with samples of Martian rocks, soils and atmosphere returning to Earth as early as 2031 for detailed laboratory analysis.

Launching: Late 2020's

Co-Investigator: Rogier Windhorst 

This next generation space telescope will investigate long-standing astronomical mysteries, such as the force behind the universe’s expansion, and search for distant planets beyond our solar system. The telescope has two instruments: The Wide Field Instrument will have a field of view that is 100 times greater than the Hubble infrared instrument, allowing it to capture more of the sky with less observing time. The Coronagraph Instrument will perform high contrast imaging and spectroscopy of individual nearby exoplanets.

Ariel spacecraft

Launching: Mid-2028

Science Team Members: Mike Line and Evgenya Shkolnik 

CASE will add scientific capabilities to the European Space Agency's Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL) mission. ARIEL is the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey, was selected as the fourth medium-class mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision program. During its 4-year mission, ARIEL will study what exoplanets are made of, how they formed and how they evolve, by surveying a diverse sample of about 1000 extrasolar planets, simultaneously in visible and infrared wavelengths. It is the first mission dedicated to measuring the chemical composition and thermal structures of hundreds of transiting exoplanets, enabling planetary science far beyond the boundaries of the Solar System. The Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey, was selected as the fourth medium-class mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision program.


Launching: 2028-2030 timeframe

Co-Investigator: Mikhail Zolotov

DAVINCI+ will measure the composition of Venus’ atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved, as well as determine whether the planet ever had an ocean. The mission consists of a descent sphere that will plunge through the planet’s thick atmosphere, making precise measurements of noble gases and other elements to understand why Venus’ atmosphere is a runaway hothouse compared to the Earth’s. In addition, DAVINCI+ will return the first high resolution pictures of the unique geological features on Venus known as “tesserae,” which may be comparable to Earth’s continents, suggesting that Venus has plate tectonics. This will be the first U.S.-led mission to Venus’ atmosphere since 1978, and the results from DAVINCI+ could reshape our understanding of terrestrial planet formation in our solar system and beyond. Goddard Space Flight Center provides project management. Discovery Mission Announcement