ESA's fleet of Solar System explorers
ESA's science missions have been exploring our planetary neighbourhood to tackle the big questions that help to put Earth in context, to understand a planet's interaction with its host star, and to search for habitable worlds. With more and more planets found in solar systems beyond ours, understanding our own cosmic neighbourhood has never been so important.
We have already sent spacecraft to Earth’s nearest planetary neighbours – Mars and Venus – to understand why they evolved so differently, with the upcoming ExoMars rover soon to drill below the Red Planet's surface to see if there is any evidence of past life preserved underground. In the next decade we’ll be unlocking the secrets of the innermost planet, Mercury, and sending a spacecraft to Jupiter and its ocean-bearing moons – both key to understanding Solar System evolution.
The successes of our earlier missions form part of ESA's science and technology legacy, feeding into the next generation of cosmic observers. Even missions that have completed their in-flight operations still yield new scientific discoveries decades after, thanks to their vast data archives available to researchers worldwide.
The graphic showcases the current state of ESA’s astronomy missions, including collaborative missions with partner agencies (e.g. the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope), upcoming missions of opportunity (e.g. the JAXA/NASA Xrism and the Chinese-led Einstein Probe) and concepts for future missions (e.g. the two candidate missions Spica and Theseus). For a complete breakdown of the various ‘class’ of missions, see our mission navigator.
This portfolio of past, present and future missions shows the importance of long-term planning to realise the missions that investigate fundamental science questions, and to ensure the continued development of innovative technology, inspiring new generations of European scientists and engineers. For example, the billion star surveyor Gaia, was conceived in the 1990s, stemming from the success of its predecessor Hipparcos. What do we want to observe in twenty or thirty years time?
In the graphic, date ranges refer to launch and completion of in-flight operations. For future missions the foreseen launch date is indicated (as of February 2019).
ESA also has a fleet of space science missions observing the Universe across the electromagnetic spectrum. Discover them here.