Encyclopedia Astronautica
Discovery


The Discovery program was begun by NASA in the early 1990s as the planetary counterpart to the Explorer program.

More... - Chronology...


Associated Countries
Associated Spacecraft
  • NEAR American asteroid probe. One launch, 1996.02.17. NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) was the first spacecraft ever to orbit and then (improvisationally) land on an asteroid. More...
  • Mars Pathfinder American Mars rover. 3 launches, 1996.12.04 (Mars Pathfinder) to (Mars Pathfinder). Mars lander with surface rover. Landed a mini-rover to the Mars surface. Test of airbag and rover technologies. First successful Mars landing mission since Viking. More...
  • Stardust American comet probe. One launch, 1999.02.07. Stardust was scheduled to encounter comet Wild-2 early in 2004 and collect samples of cometary dust and volatiles while flying through the coma at a distance of 100 km on the sunlit side of the nucleus. More...
  • Genesis American solar satellite. One launch, 2001.08.08. Genesis was part of NASA's Discovery program. Its objective was to fly to the Earth-Sun L1 point and spend two years collecting samples of the solar wind. More...
  • Messenger American Mercury probe. One launch, 2004.08.03. NASA probe, launched in 2004 with the challenging mission of comprehensively mapping Mercury from orbit between March 2011 and March 2012. More...
  • Deep Impact American comet probe. One launch, 2005.01.12. Studied interior composition of Comet Tempel 1. The flyby spacecraft carried a smaller impactor which it released, allowing it to study the plume from the collision with the comet on 2005.07.04. More...

Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Delta 7925 American orbital launch vehicle. Four stage vehicle consisting of 9 x GEM-40 + 1 x EELT Thor/RS-27A + 1 x Delta K + 1 x Star 48B More...
  • Delta 7925-8 American orbital launch vehicle. Four stage vehicle consisting of 9 x GEM-40 + 1 x EELT Thor/RS-27A + 1 x Delta K + 1 x Star 48B with 2.4 m (8 foot) diameter fairing) More...
  • Athena-2 American all-solid orbital launch vehicle. The Athena-2 version featured a Castor 120 first stage, Castor 120 second stage, Orbus third stage, and OAM Orbital Adjustment Module. More...
  • Delta 7925-9.5 American orbital launch vehicle. Four stage vehicle consisting of 9 x GEM-40 + 1 x EELT Thor/RS-27A + 1 x Delta K + 1 x Star 48B with 2.9 m (9.5 foot) diameter fairing) More...
  • Delta 7326-9.5 American orbital launch vehicle. Four stage vehicle consisting of 3 x GEM-40 + 1 x EELT Thor/RS-27A + 1 x Delta K + 1 x Star 37FM with 2.9 m (9.5 foot) diameter fairing) More...
  • Delta 7425-9.5 American orbital launch vehicle. Four stage vehicle consisting of 4 x GEM-40 + 1 x EELT Thor/RS-27A + 1 x Delta K + 1 x Star 48B with 2.9 m (9.5 foot) diameter fairing) More...
  • Delta 7426-9.5 American orbital launch vehicle. Four stage vehicle consisting of 4 x GEM-40 + 1 x EELT Thor/RS-27A + 1 x Delta K + 1 x Star 37FM with 2.9 m (9.5 foot) diameter fairing) More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • JPL American agency;manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, USA. More...
  • NASA American agency overseeing development of rockets and spacecraft. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, USA, USA. More...
  • APL American manufacturer of rockets and spacecraft. Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University, Laurel, MD, Laurel, Maryland, USA. More...
  • NASA Ames American agency overseeing development of rockets and spacecraft. Ames, USA. More...
  • Martin American manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Martin Marietta Astronautics Group (1956), Denver, CO, USA. More...
  • Lockheed American manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Lockheed Martin, Sunnyvale, CA, USA. More...

Associated Launch Sites
  • Cape Canaveral America's largest launch center, used for all manned launches. Today only six of the 40 launch complexes built here remain in use. Located at or near Cape Canaveral are the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, used by NASA for Saturn V and Space Shuttle launches; Patrick AFB on Cape Canaveral itself, operated the US Department of Defense and handling most other launches; the commercial Spaceport Florida; the air-launched launch vehicle and missile Drop Zone off Mayport, Florida, located at 29.00 N 79.00 W, and an offshore submarine-launched ballistic missile launch area. All of these take advantage of the extensive down-range tracking facilities that once extended from the Cape, through the Caribbean, South Atlantic, and to South Africa and the Indian Ocean. More...

Discovery Chronology


1996 February 17 - . 20:43 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC17B. LV Family: Delta. Launch Vehicle: Delta 7925-8. LV Configuration: Delta 7925-8 D232.
  • NEAR - . Payload: Discovery 1. Mass: 818 kg (1,803 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA Greenbelt. Program: Discovery. Class: Asteroids. Type: Asteroid probe. Spacecraft: NEAR. Decay Date: 2001-02-12 . USAF Sat Cat: 23784 . COSPAR: 1996-008A. Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission was the first of NASA's Discovery missions, a series of small-scale spacecraft designed to proceed from development to flight in under three years for a cost of less than $150 million. The spacecraft's mission was to rendezvous with and achieve orbit around the asteroid Eros in January 1999, and study the asteroid for one year. However as it flew by the Earth on 23 January 1998, a problem caused an abort of the first encounter burn. The mission had to be rescoped for a later encounter but successfully entered orbit around Eros on Valentine's Day 2000 and ended the mission by gently landing on its surface on 12 February 2001.

1996 December 4 - . 06:58 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC17B. LV Family: Delta. Launch Vehicle: Delta 7925. LV Configuration: Delta 7925 D240.
  • Mars Pathfinder - . Payload: Discovery 2. Nation: USA. Agency: NASA; JPL. Program: Discovery. Class: Mars. Type: Mars probe. Spacecraft: Mars Pathfinder. Decay Date: 1997-07-04 . USAF Sat Cat: 24667 . COSPAR: 1996-068A. Summary: En route Mars.

1998 January 7 - . 02:28 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC46. Launch Pad: SLC46. LV Family: Athena. Launch Vehicle: Athena-2. LV Configuration: Athena-2 LM-004.
  • Lunar Prospector - . Payload: Discovery 3. Nation: USA. Agency: NASA Ames. Manufacturer: Lockheed. Program: Discovery. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Lunar Prospector. Decay Date: 1999-07-31 . USAF Sat Cat: 25131 . COSPAR: 1998-001A. The Lunar Prospector was designed for a low polar orbit investigation of the Moon, including mapping of surface composition and possible polar ice deposits, measurements of magnetic and gravity fields, and study of lunar outgassing events. Data from the 1 to 3 year mission will allow construction of a detailed map of the surface composition of the Moon, and will improve understanding of the origin, evolution, current state, and resources of the Moon. After launch, the Lunar Prospector had a 105 hour cruise to the Moon, followed by insertion into a near-circular 100 km altitude lunar polar orbit with a period of 118 minutes. The nominal mission duration was one year.

1999 February 7 - . 21:04 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC17A. Launch Pad: SLC17A. LV Family: Delta. Launch Vehicle: Delta 7426-9.5. LV Configuration: Delta 7426-9.5 D266.
  • Stardust - . Payload: Discovery 4. Mass: 370 kg (810 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: JPL. Manufacturer: Martin. Program: Discovery. Class: Comet. Type: Comet probe. Spacecraft: Stardust. USAF Sat Cat: 25618 . COSPAR: 1999-003A. Stardust was to fly within 100 km of comet 81P/Wild-2 in January 2004 and recover cometary material using an aerogel substance. A return capsule would land on a lake bed in Utah in January 2006, returning the material to earth. The launch went as planned. The second stage ignited at 21:08 GMT and its first burn put the vehicle into a 185 km x 185 km x 28 degree parking orbit at 21:14 GMT. The second stage second burn at 21:25 changed the orbit to planned values of 178 km x 7184 km x 28.5 degrees. The Star 37FM solid third stage ignited at 21:29 GMT and placed the spacecraft into a 2 year period solar orbit. The spacecraft separated at 21:31 GMT. Meanwhile, the Delta 266 second stage burned a third time on its own, until its propellants were depleted, entering a final orbit of 294 km x 6818 km x 22.5 degrees. The Stardust probe flew past Earth at a distance of 3706 km at 1115 GMT on January 15, 2001, and flew near the Moon at a distance of 98000 km at around 0200 GMT on January 16. The gravity assist flyby changed Stardust's heliocentric orbit from 0.956 x 2.216 AU x 0.0 deg to 0.983 x 2.285 AU x 3.7 deg.

2001 August 8 - . 16:13 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC17A. Launch Pad: SLC17A. LV Family: Delta. Launch Vehicle: Delta 7326-9.5. LV Configuration: Delta 7326-9.5 D287.
  • Genesis - . Payload: Discovery 5. Mass: 636 kg (1,402 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA; JPL. Manufacturer: Martin. Program: Discovery. Class: Astronomy. Type: Solar astronomy satellite. Spacecraft: Genesis. USAF Sat Cat: 26884 . COSPAR: 2001-034A. Apogee: 1,175,513 km (730,428 mi). Perigee: 213,681 km (132,774 mi). Inclination: 28.0000 deg. Period: 97,345.15 min. Launch delayed from February 10 and July 30. The Genesis probe flew to the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrangian point and spend two years collecting samples of the solar wind. The collected samples were to be physically returned to Earth in a sample return capsule (air-snatch recovery was planned over Utah) and analysed in ground-based laboratories. The first burn of the Delta second stage put Genesis in a 185 x 197 km x 28.5 deg parking orbit at 1624 GMT. At 1712 GMT a second burn raised the orbit to 182 x 3811 km, and at 1713 GMT the third stage fired to put Genesis on its trajectory to L1 with a nominal apogee of around 1.2 million km. By the first week of November 2001 Genesis arrived at the Earth-Sun L1 point. A malfunctioning thermal radiator caused some concern for the health of the sample return capsule's critical battery, which was overheating, but Genesis began collecting solar wind samples on schedule.

    On September 8, 2004, the Genesis space probe became the first spacecraft to return from beyond lunar orbit to the Earth's surface. The Genesis Sample Return Capsule separated from the spacecraft on September 8, 66,000 km above the Earth. The capsule successfully re-entered the atmosphere over Oregon at 11 km/s, but a wiring error resulted in the drogue parachute release mortar failing to fire at 33 km altitude. The capsule crashed to earth at 90 m/s in the Dugway Proving Ground at 40 07 40 N 113 30 29 W. Although the vehicle was smashed, some of the samples could be retrieved.


2002 July 3 - . 06:47 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC17A. Launch Pad: SLC17A. LV Family: Delta. Launch Vehicle: Delta 7425-9.5. LV Configuration: Delta 7425-9.5 D292 / Star 30.
  • Contour - . Payload: Discovery 6. Mass: 1,005 kg (2,215 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA; Cornell. Manufacturer: APL. Program: Discovery. Class: Comet. Type: Comet probe. Spacecraft: Contour. USAF Sat Cat: 27457 . COSPAR: 2002-034A. Apogee: 108,614 km (67,489 mi). Perigee: 212 km (131 mi). Inclination: 30.6000 deg. Period: 2,486.10 min. Launch delayed from July 1st. The latest NASA Discovery mission was successfully launched on Jul 3. The CONTOUR (Comet Nucleus Tour) probe, built and operated by the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), began its five year mission to explore three comets, using repeated encounters with the earth to modify its orbit in order to reach each target. The first burn of the second stage completed at 0659 UTC putting the spacecraft in a 185 x 197 km x 29.7 deg parking orbit. At 0746 UTC the second stage restarted for a short 4s burn to 185 x 309 km x 29.7 deg, and then separated once the PAM-D (ATK Star 48B) solid third stage was spun up. The 1.5 minute burn of the third stage motor at 0748 UTC put it and CONTOUR in a 90 x 106689 km x 30.5 deg phasing orbit. By July 8 CONTOUR's orbit was 214 x 106686 km x 29.8 deg. CONTOUR stayed in this phasing orbit until August 15, when it was injected into solar orbit using its internal ATK Star 30 solid motor. Flyby of the first target, comet 2P/Encke, was scheduled for Nov 2003.

2004 August 3 - . 06:15 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC17B. Launch Pad: SLC17B. LV Family: Delta. Launch Vehicle: Delta 7925. LV Configuration: Delta 7925H D307.
  • Messenger - . Payload: Discovery 8. Mass: 1,066 kg (2,350 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA. Manufacturer: APL. Program: Discovery. Class: Mercury. Type: Mercury probe. Spacecraft: Messenger. USAF Sat Cat: 28391 . COSPAR: 2004-030A. The NASA Messenger probe to Mercury was was first placed into a parking orbit. The Delta booster second stage's second burn raised the orbit, then the PAM-D solid motor burned to put the probe on an escape trajectory into a 0.92 x 1.08 AU x 6.4 deg heliocentric orbit. Messenger (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) was to make an Earth flyby on August 1, 2005; Venus flybys in 2006 and 2007; and Mercury encounters in January and October 2008 , September 2009 and March 2011 . On this last encounter the Aerojet 660N engine was to fire to put Messenger into a 200 x 15,193 km x 80 deg orbit around Mercury. Launch delayed from March 10, May 11, August 2

2005 January 12 - . 18:47 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC17B. Launch Pad: SLC17B. LV Family: Delta. Launch Vehicle: Delta 7925-9.5. LV Configuration: Delta 7925-9.5 D311.
  • Deep Impact - . Payload: Discovery 7. Mass: 601 kg (1,324 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: Seal Beach. Program: Discovery. Class: Comet. Type: Comet probe. Spacecraft: Deep Impact. USAF Sat Cat: 28517 . COSPAR: 2005-001A. Launched into a 0.981 AU x 1.628 AU solar orbit inclined 0.6 deg to the ecliptic. Deep Impact was to fly by Comet 9P/Tempel-1 on 3 July 2005. An impacter it released was to hit the comet on 4 July at 10.2 km/s, producing a crater and ejecta plume that would allow the flyby spacecraft to determine the composition and structure of the comet's nucleus.

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