Space Probes

Space Probes

A space probe is an unpiloted, unmanned device sent to explore space and gather scientific information.


3 - 12


Earth Science, Astronomy, Engineering

A space probe is an unpiloted, unmanned device sent to explore space and gather scientific information. A space probe is launched from Earth with a set of scientific instruments and tools used to study the atmosphere and composition of space and other planets, moons, or celestial bodies. A probe may operate far out in space, or it may orbit or land on a planet or a moon. It may make a one-way journey, or it may bring samples and data back to Earth. Most probes transmit data from space by radio. There are different types of space probes because they collect different science information about very different environments. The probes must be able to withstand the various extreme environments to collect data. Humans have been sending space probes into space since the 1950s. The next generation of probes will study samples taken from comets, asteroids, and eventually Mars.


- Since the late 1950s, some 200 craft have been sent into space to encounter celestial bodies. The moon, asteroids, comets and every planet in the solar system except Pluto, have been visited by space probes. There are three types of space probes. Interplanetary probes simply fly by celestial bodies. This was the case for the Voyager 2 probe, which passed about 34 million kilometers away from Saturn, and then continued its path through the solar system. Orbiters are placed in orbit around a celestial body in order to examine it for a number of years. The Magellan probe spent four years in orbit around Venus mapping its surface. An orbiter generally carries a camera that takes thousands of photographs, as well as other instruments that study particular aspects of the planet, such as its gravitational field. A transmission antenna then sends these data to earth. Finally, Landers are probes designed to land on the surface of a celestial body to study a particular place on it. The information transmitted by Landers, like this panoramic Martian landscape taken by the Pathfinder probe in 1997, are both detailed and spectacular. The next generation of probes will bring back samples taken from comets, asteroids, and eventually Mars.


- Desde finales de los años 50, unas 200 naves han sido enviadas al espacio para encontrarse con cuerpos celestes. La luna, asteroides, cometas y todos los planetas del sistema solar excepto Plutón han sido visitados por sondas espaciales. Existen tres tipos de sondas espaciales. Las sondas interplanetarias simplemente pasan cerca de los cuerpos celestes. Este fue el caso de la sonda Voyager 2, que pasó a unos 34 millones de kilómetros de Saturno y luego continuó su camino a través del sistema solar. Los orbitadores se colocan en órbita alrededor de un cuerpo celeste con el fin de examinarlo durante varios años. La sonda Magellan pasó cuatro años en órbita alrededor de Venus escaneando su superficie. Un orbitador generalmente lleva una cámara que toma miles de fotografías, así como otros instrumentos que estudian aspectos particulares del planeta, como su campo gravitacional. Una antena de transmisión envía estos datos a la tierra. Finalmente, los Landers son sondas diseñadas para aterrizar en la superficie de un cuerpo celestial para estudiar un lugar particular en él. La información transmitida por los Landers, como este paisaje marciano panorámico tomado por la sonda Pathfinder en 1997, es tanto detallada como espectacular. La próxima generación de sondas traerá muestras tomadas de cometas, asteroides y eventualmente Marte.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Christina Riska Simmons
Educator Reviewer
Dianne Koval Butler, Manager, Education Outreach & Partnerships, Lockheed Martin Corporate Communications, Lockheed Martin Corporate Communications
Expert Reviewer
Buddy Nelson, Media Relations, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Lockheed Martin
National Geographic Program
Wildest Weather in the Solar System
Page Producer
Jason Wasser
Last Updated

May 30, 2024

For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service. If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please contact your teacher. They will best know the preferred format. When you reach out to them, you will need the page title, URL, and the date you accessed the resource.


If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the corner of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.


Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.


Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.

Related Resources

Lockheed Martin