Earth Science Missions Program

Ames manages airborne science missions that improve life for humans on earth.

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Ames CCT Technology

Ames develops innovative partnerships and collaboration models to stimulate technology transfers and commercial activities.

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Small Satellite Missions

NanoSail-D Factsheet

Ames develops small satellite missions that enable science in low Earth orbit.

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Exploration History

Footprint on the Moon
This Month in Exploration

Visit every month to find out how aviation and space exploration have improved life for humans on Earth and in space.

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Lunar Exploration

Learn more about the significance of our robotic and human exploration of the moon.

› Lunar exploration

Current Missions

  • NASA's first mission capable of finding Earth-size and smaller planets.

    Kepler  →

    Kepler is NASA's first mission capable of finding Earth-size and smaller planets. The Kepler mission, scheduled to launch in 2009, will monitor the brightness of stars to find planets that pass in front of them during the planets' orbits. During such passes or 'transits,' the planets will slightly decrease the star's brightness.

  • The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, lands at Moffett Field, Calif.

    SOFIA (Joint Venture)

    The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a joint venture of the U.S. and German aerospace agencies, NASA and the DLR. The aircraft is supplied by the U.S., and the telescope by Germany. Modifications of the Boeing 747SP airframe to accommodate the telescope, mission-unique equipment and large external door were made by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems of Waco, Texas.

  • concept image of Mars Science Laboratory on Mars

    Mars Science Laboratory, the Next Mars Rover (Joint Venture)

    The primary goal of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, expected to launch in late 2011, is to investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and for preserving clues about possible past life. This mission is preparing to set down a large, mobile laboratory - the rover Curiosity. During the 23 months after landing, Curiosity will analyze dozens of samples drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground as it explores with greater range than any previous Mars rover.

  • Thomas Neidermaier, EMCS Payload Integration Manager and Reinhard Born, EMCS Payload Engineering Manager perform final checks on NASA and ESA hardware at NASA Ames Research Center.

    Seedling Growth-1  →

    Seedling Growth-1 is the first in a series of joint NASA-European Space Agency experiments aiming to help us understand plant growth in space. The major goals of the experiment are to determine how gravity and light responses influence each other in plants and to better understand the cellular signaling mechanisms involved in plant tropisms - plant movement and growth. The Seedling Growth-1 payload launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a SpaceX Dragon vehicle on March 1, 2013.

  • The logo for Bion-M1.

    Bion-M1  →

    NASA's participation in the Bion-M1 mission will continue the 30+-year history of collaborative research between NASA and the Russian Institute of Biomedical Problems (IMBP), Moscow.

  • Operation Ice Bridge

    Operation Ice Bridge  →

    Icebridge is a 6 year airborne survey of the Earth's polar regions that combines detailed flight data with scientific observations from ICESat satellites. Using complex data assimilation, the project is producing stunning three-dimensional views of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves and ice sea. [Spring and Fall 2012]

  • HS3

    HS3  →

    Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel is a 5 year investigation of how hurricanes form and intensify in the Atlantic Ocean basin. Scientists will fly instruments on two of NASA's unmanned air systems (UAS) to take field measurements during three hurricane seasons. One suite of instruments will measure the environment while the other suite will focus on the internal hurricane structure and processes. [Summer 2012]


    ATTREX  →

    ATTREX used NASA's unmanned air systems to take a series of scientific measurements to study the composition, chemistry, and behavior of the Tropical Tropopause Layer (TTL). The TTL is the region of the atmosphere that controls the composition of the stratosphere. [Summer 2011]

Future Launches


    Lunar Atmosphere Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE)

    NASA’s LADEE mission will orbit the moon to characterize the atmosphere and lunar dust environment.

  • IRIS logo

    Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) (Joint Venture)  →

    The primary goal of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) explorer mission, expected to be launched in December 2012, is to understand how the solar atmosphere is energized. The IRIS investigation combines advanced numerical modeling with a high-resolution ultraviolet imaging spectrograph. IRIS fills a crucial gap in our ability to advance Sun-Earth connection studies by tracing the flow of energy and plasma.


    Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System (CYGNSS)

    CYGNSS will use a constellation of eight small satellites that will launch together in 2016. Once in orbit, the eight satellites will serve as micro-observatories that will enable scientists to measure air-sea interactions that occur near the inner core of storms and hurricanes.

  • cluster of EDSN satellites

    Edison Demonstration of Smallsat Networks (EDSN)

    The EDSN mission will deploy a swarm of eight small satellites, known as Cubesats, into a loose formation about 400 km above the earth. Once in orbit, the Cubesats will measure space radiation and communicate with scientific researchers and with each other. EDSN will launch from Hawaii in late 2013.

  • A petri dish with specimens lit by LED lights.


    SporeSat is a mission that will develop state-of-the-art biomedical instrumentation to measure how plants develop in space. The scientific experiment will include a miniature analytical tool which allows researchers to further develop a "lab on a chip" approach to science.

Past Missions

  • ASA's PhoneSat project has won Popular Science's 2012 Best of What's New Award for innovation in aerospace. PhoneSat will demonstrate the ability to launch one of the lowest-cost, easiest-to-build satellites ever flown in space -- capabilities enabled by using off-the-shelf consumer smartphones.


    Three PhoneSats were delivered to Earth orbit on the maiden flight of the Antares launch vehicle on April 21, 2013 from Wallops Island, Virginia. The PhoneSats employ an off-the-shelf commercial smartphone as the control system for the satellite and used a UHF radio beacon to transmit data and images to the ground. The technology objective was to demonstrate the application of consumer electronics as the basis of an extremely low-cost satellite bus.

  • TechEdSat


    TechEdSat is an innovative low-cost mission that showcases collaboration across NASA, academia, and industry. A small satellite known as a Cubesat was developed by students from San Jose State University in California with support from NASA Ames using plug-and-play commercially available avionics. TechEdSat was launched from the International Space Station in October 2012 and students are preforming communications experiments using TechEdSat data.

  • Cell Bio Tech Demo Specimen Transfer Tray with the Yeast Transfer Container attached.

    Cell Biology Tech Demo  →

    The goal of the Cell Biology Tech Demo was to demonstrate critical bioculture system-component crew operations aboard the ISS and the ability of hardware components to interface with existing laboratory facilities on orbit. Equipment for the Cell Bio Tech Demo launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard a SpaceX Dragon vehicle on March 1, 2013. The Cell Biology Tech Demo mission duration was 26 days. During the mission, crew aboard the ISS demonstrated critical fluid handling procedures.

  • The Mission Objectives of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) include confirming the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater at the Moon’s South Pole.

    Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS)

    The Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission to look for water on the moon will be a 'secondary payload spacecraft.' LCROSS will begin its trip to the moon on the same rocket as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which will conduct a different lunar task. Launch is scheduled for no earlier than June 17th, 2009 on an Atlas V rocket from Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

  • Lunar Prospector

    Lunar Prospector

    Launched on Jan. 6, 1998, Lunar Prospector mapped the moon’s surface composition and looked for possible deposits of polar ice, measure magnetic and gravity fields, as well as study lunar 'out gassing.' On March 5, 1998, scientists announced that Lunar Prospector's neutron spectrometer instrument had detected hydrogen at both lunar poles, which scientists theorized to be in the form of water ice.

  • Kuiper in flight


    First major airborne astronomical research laboratory celebrating 30 years of flights.

  • Mars Exploration Rover

    Mars Exploration Rovers

    Although the Mars Exploration Rover mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, NASA Ames Research Center has played an important role in the areas of science operations, thermal protection, wind tunnel testing, landing site selection, mission support software, human-centered computing and fatigue countermeasures support.

  • Phoenix lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:26 a.m. EDT on Aug. 4, 2007, aboard a Delta II-Heavy rocket. This is how the launch countdown unfolded.

    Phoenix Mars Scout

    In the continuing pursuit of water on Mars, the poles are a good place to probe, as water ice is found there. This mission will send the Phoenix high-latitude lander to Mars, deploy its robotic arm and dig trenches up to 1.6 feet (one half meter) into the layers of water ice.

  • O/OREOS logo

    Organism/Organic Exposure to Orbital Stresses (O/OREOS)

    NASA’s Organism/Organic Exposure to Orbital Stresses, or O/OREOS, nanosatellite is about the size of a loaf of bread, weighs approximately 12 pounds and has two experiments that will activate once it reaches low Earth orbit, more than 400 miles above Earth.

  • Illustration of NanoSail-D


    Nanosail-D was a successful nanosatellite deployment of NASA's first-ever solar sail in low Earth orbit. The mission launched in 2010 and spent more than 240 days sailing around the Earth, paving the way for future spacecraft that could be propelled by the sun's rays.

  • PharmaSat


    NASA’s PharmaSat nanosatellite contains a micro-laboratory packed with sensors to detect the health of yeast cells and determine how effectively drugs work in microgravity.

  • GeneSat


    The 11-pound (5-kilogram) GeneSat-1, carrying bacteria inside a miniature laboratory, was launched on Dec. 16, 2006. The very small NASA satellite has proven that scientists can quickly design and launch a new class of inexpensive spacecraft -- and conduct significant science.

  • GeneBox


    A NASA shoebox-size payload, called 'GeneBox,' is now orbiting Earth as a passenger inside Bigelow Corporation's one-third scale, inflatable Genesis I test spacecraft.



    ICESCAPE was a multi-year NASA shipborne project to measure the physical, chemical, and biological changes occurring in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, which are part of the Arctic Ocean. Scientists used state-of-the-art remote sensors in the water, under the ice, and in the atmosphere to collect scientific data. [Summer 2010 and 2011]


    MACPEX  →

    MACPEX was an airborne mission using NASA's WB-57 to study cirrus cloud composition in the Central United States and specifically the Oklahoma region. Detailed flight data was combined with NASA's A-Train satellite observations to evaluate new remote-sensing data capabilities. [Spring 2011]


    SEAC4RS  →

    The SEAC4RS was a deployment to Southeast Asia to study the upper atmosphere's composition, behavior, and chemistry during the monsoon season. [Summer 2012]

  • Pioneer

    The Pioneer Missions

    After more than 30 years, it appears the venerable Pioneer 10 spacecraft has sent its last signal to Earth.

  • Galileo

    Galileo to Jupiter

    Launched in 1989 aboard space shuttle Atlantis, Galileo explored Jupiter and its moons. Upon arrival at Jupiter in December 1995, the Galileo spacecraft delivered a probe that descended into the giant planet's atmosphere. The orbiter completed many flybys of Jupiter's major moons, reaping a variety of science discoveries. The mission ended on Sept. 21, 2003, when the spacecraft plunged into Jupiter's atmosphere.

Technology and Innovation

    Investments in space technology and innovation enable new missions, stimulate the economy, contribute to the nation’s global competitiveness, and inspire America’s next generation of scientists, engineers and astronauts.
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