Only a few robotic spacecraft have encountered asteroids up close. Here are some highlights of those missions:
NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – the world’s first planetary defense technology demonstration – successfully impacted asteroid Dimorphos on Sept. 27, 2022, in the agency’s first attempt to move an asteroid in space. Dimorphos is a moonlet to asteroid Didymos.
NASA's Dawn spacecraft was launched in 2007 to explore asteroid Vesta, the second most massive body in the main asteroid belt. Dawn arrived at Vesta in 2011, then orbited and explored Vesta for over a year before leaving in September 2012 to explore dwarf planet Ceres.
Japan's Hayabusa2 was launched in December 2014 on a six-year voyage to study asteroid Ryugu, and to collect samples to bring back to Earth for analysis. Hayabusa2 arrived at the asteroid in June 2018. The spacecraft deployed rovers and landers onto Ryugu’s surface and collected a sample. Hayabusa2 delivered the asteroid sample to Earth on Dec. 6, 2020.
NASA's NEOWISE spacecraft is orbiting Earth to improve on the most accurate survey of near-Earth objects ever undertaken.
The Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based radar observatories also contribute regularly to our understanding of asteroids. Several more missions, including NASA's Psyche and Lucy, missions are in development to keep exploring these small worlds. Scientists also use ground-based radar to explore nearby asteroids whenever possible.
More Exploration Highlights
NASA's Galileo mission was the first spacecraft to fly past an asteroid. It flew past asteroid Gaspara in 1991 and Ida in 1993.
In 2005, the Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa landed on the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa and attempted to collect samples. On June 3, 2010, Hayabusa successfully returned to Earth a small amount of asteroid dust now being studied by scientists.
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Eyes on the Solar System
Fly along with the Dawn mission as it explorers Ceres and the asteroid belt with NASA’s free Eyes on the Solar System software. Eyes lets you explore the planets, their moons, asteroids, comets and the spacecraft exploring them from 1950 to 2050 all from the comfort of your home computer.