Satellite Animations

A collection of spacecraft beauty pass animations for current missions.

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Astrophysics Missions

  • BurstCube Animations
    BurstCube is a mission under development at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. This CubeSat will detect short gamma-ray bursts, which are important sources for gravitational wave discoveries and multimessenger astronomy. The satellite is expected to launch in 2023.
  • Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope Spacecraft Animation
    NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope is a powerful space observatory that opens a wide window on the universe. Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, and the gamma-ray sky is spectacularly different from the one we perceive with our own eyes. Fermi enables scientists to answer persistent questions across a broad range of topics, including supermassive black-hole systems, pulsars, the origin of cosmic rays, and searches for signals of new physics.
  • Hubble Space Telescope's 30th Anniversary Beauty Passes
    Two new animations commisioned for Hubble Space Telescope's 30th Anniversary showing the observatory in orbit around the Earth.
  • Nancy Grace Roman Spacecraft Beauty Pass Animations and Stills
    Animation video and stills based off the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) design of the Roman Space Telescope spacecraft.
  • NICER Payload Animations
    Animated video and stills of the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) payload.
  • TESS Spacecraft Animations
    The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will discover thousands of exoplanets in orbit around the brightest stars in the sky. In a two-year survey of the solar neighborhood, TESS will monitor more than 200,000 stars for temporary drops in brightness caused by planetary transits. This first-ever spaceborne all-sky transit survey will identify planets ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, around a wide range of stellar types and orbital distances. No ground-based survey can achieve this feat.
  • Swift Spacecraft Animation
    NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, shown in this illustration, launched into Earth orbit in November 2004. The satellite investigates gamma-ray bursts, the most energetic explosions in the universe. Swift observes the sky in visible, ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray light. Its name reflects its ability to rapidly follow up on interesting objects in the sky. Swift also studies supernova explosions, star-shredding black holes in other galaxies, comets, stellar remnants called neutron stars, and other cosmic phenomena. In 2018, NASA renamed Swift in honor of the late Neil Gehrels, who helped develop the mission and served as its principal investigator for 13 years.

    Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (KBRwyle)

  • Webb Telescope Animation - Webb Eclipses Sun
    Animation of the Webb Space Telescope as it eclipses the sun as seen from the camera's viewpoint
  • XRISM Beauty Shots
    This page contains animations and illustrations of the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission spacecraft, which is scheduled to launch into orbit around Earth in 2023. The mission, abbreviated XRISM (pronounced “crism”), is a collaboration between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA, along with ESA (the European Space Agency) participation, to investigate the X-ray universe using high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy. XRISM features two instruments: Resolve, an X-ray calorimeter spectrometer, and Xtend, an X-ray imager. Cooled to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero, Resolve’s detector can measure the slight amount of heat generated when each pixel absorbs a single X-ray photon. Xtend will image a field of view about 60% larger than the apparent size of a full moon, giving it XRISM the widest view of any X-ray imaging satellite flown to date. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, developed the X-ray Mirror Assemblies used for both instruments, as well as the Resolve detector and many of its subsystems.

Heliophysics Missions

  • ACE HD
    The ACE spacecraft withstanding a solar wind shockwave
  • GOLD on SES-14 Animation
    The Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk (GOLD) mission is part of the NASA Explorers Program. GOLD is at the forefront of exploring and understanding near-Earth space, which is home to astronauts, radio signals used to guide airplanes and ships, and satellites that provide our communications and GPS systems. The more we understand about this region, the more we can protect our assets in space.

    GOLD is the first NASA mission to fly as a hosted payload on a commercial communications satellite. GOLD is onboard on the SES-14 satellite.

    Launch date: January 25, 2018
    Launch location: Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana
    Launch vehicle: Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket
    Mission target: Earth’s ionosphere and thermosphere
    Mission duration: 2-year nominal mission at geostationary orbit; extended mission possible

  • Interstellar Boundry Explorer (IBEX)
    These animations show IBEX and it's two imagers specialized to detect neutral atoms from the solar system's outer boundaries and galactic medium.
  • ICON Beauty Pass
    The Ionospheric Connection Explorer will study the frontier of space: the dynamic zone high in our atmosphere where terrestrial weather from below meets space weather above. In this region, the tenuous gases are anything but quiet, as a mix of neutral and charged particles travel through in giant winds. These winds can change on a wide variety of time scales -- due to Earth's seasons, the day's heating and cooling, and incoming bursts of radiation from the sun. This region of space and its changes have practical repercussions, given our ever-increasing reliance on technology -- this is the area through which radio communications and GPS signals travel. Variations there can result in distortions or even complete disruption of signals. In order to understand this complicated region of near-Earth space, called the ionosphere, NASA has developed the ICON mission. To understand what drives variability in the ionosphere requires a careful look at a complicated system that is driven by both terrestrial and space weather. ICON will help determine the physics of our space environment and pave the way for mitigating its effects on our technology, communications systems and society.
  • IRIS Launch, Deploy and Beauty Passes
    Understanding the interface between the photosphere and corona remains a fundamental challenge in solar and heliospheric science. The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission opens a window of discovery into this crucial region by tracing the flow of energy and plasma through the chromosphere and transition region into the corona using spectrometry and imaging. IRIS is designed to provide significant new information to increase our understanding of energy transport into the corona and solar wind and provide an archetype for all stellar atmospheres. The unique instrument capabilities, coupled with state of the art 3-D modeling, will fill a large gap in our knowledge of this dynamic region of the solar atmosphere. The mission will extend the scientific output of existing heliophysics spacecraft that follow the effects of energy release processes from the sun to Earth.

    IRIS will provide key insights into all these processes, and thereby advance our understanding of the solar drivers of space weather from the corona to the far heliosphere, by combining high-resolution imaging and spectroscopy for the entire chromosphere and adjacent regions. IRIS will resolve in space, time, and wavelength the dynamic geometry from the chromosphere to the low-temperature corona to shed much-needed light on the physics of this magnetic interface region.

  • Parker Solar Probe Animations
    Animated Sequence Of Parker Solar Probe
    Credit: NASA/JHUAPL
  • MMS Spacecraft Animation
    The Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is a Solar Terrestrial Probes mission comprising four identically instrumented spacecraft that will use Earth’s magnetosphere as a laboratory to study the microphysics of three fundamental plasma processes: magnetic reconnection, energetic particle acceleration, and turbulence. These processes occur in all astrophysical plasma systems but can be studied in situ only in our solar system and most efficiently only in Earth’s magnetosphere, where they control the dynamics of the geospace environment and play an important role in the processes known as “space weather.”

    Learn more about MMS at

  • RBSP Animation
    Animations of the Radiation Belt Storm Probe spacecraft.
  • SDO Beauty Pass
    Solar Dynamic Observatory in orbit around the Earth
  • SET Beauty Pass Animation
    The Space Environment Testbeds (SET) Project performs flight and data investigations to address the Living With a Star (LWS) Program goal of understanding how the Sun/Earth interactions affect humanity. SET uses existing data and new data from the low-cost SET mission to define the mechanisms for space environment effects, reduce uncertainties in the environment and its effects on spacecraft and their payloads and improve design and operations guidelines and test protocols so that spacecraft anomalies and failures due to environmental effects during operations are reduced.
  • Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)
    The Solar & Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) project is a cooperative effort between the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. SOHO was designed to study the internal structure of the Sun, its extensive outer atmosphere and the origin of the solar wind, the stream of highly ionized gas that blows continuously outward through the Solar System.
  • Solar - B (Hinode) Spacecraft
    Solar - B Spacecraft goes into orbit to begin looking at the sun. It is specifically looking at solar magnetic fields and the origins of the solar wind.
  • Solar Orbiter - ESA Animations
    Solar Orbiter is an European Space Agency (ESA) mission with strong NASA participation. Its mission is to perform unprecedented close-up observations of the Sun and from high-latitudes, providing the first images of the uncharted polar regions of the Sun, and investigating the Sun-Earth connection.
  • SORCE Beauty Pass
    A close-up view of the SORCE satellite in orbit.
  • SunRISE Beauty Pass
    The mission called the Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment, or SunRISE, is an array of six CubeSats operating as one very large radio telescope. The mission design relies on six solar-powered CubeSats – each about the size of a toaster oven – to simultaneously observe radio images of low-frequency emission from solar activity and transmit data to NASA’s Deep Space Network. The constellation of CubeSats would fly within 6 miles of each other, above Earth's atmosphere, which otherwise blocks the radio signals SunRISE will observe. Together, the six CubeSats will create 3D maps to pinpoint where giant particle bursts originate on the Sun and how they evolve as they expand outward into space. This, in turn, will help determine what initiates and accelerates these giant jets of radiation. The six individual spacecraft will also work together to map, for the first time, the pattern of magnetic field lines reaching from the Sun out into interplanetary space. SunRISE is scheduled to launch no earlier than July 2023.
  • STEREO Fly-by
    This animation shows a stereoscopic 3D fly-by of STEREO A spacecraft.
  • THEMIS Beauty Pass
    A closer look at one of the THEMIS spacecraft.
  • Voyager Meets a Coronal Mass Ejection
    A coronal mass ejection (CME) passes the Voyager spacecraft far beyond Pluto.
  • Voyager 2
    This animation shows Voyager 2 on its journey to the Heliopause.

Earth Science Missions

  • Simulated Aura/OMI Data Collection
    On June 19, 2004, NASA launches Aura, a next generation Earth-observing satellite. One of several instruments on the Aura satellite is the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI). OMI is a contribution of the Netherland's Agency for Aerospace Programs (NIVR) along with the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI). OMI will continue the TOMS record for total ozone and other atmospheric parameters related to ozone chemistry and climate. (For more information on the Aura project, please visit

    Note: The size of the satellite model in the following animation and stills has been exaggerated for aesthetic purposes.

  • CALIPSO Spacecraft Beauty Passes
    A variety of animated beauty passes of the CloudSat and the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) spacecraft. It studies the role that clouds and aerosols play in regulating Earth's weather, climate, and air quality.
  • Cloudsat
    Cloudsat traverses the Earth
  • GEDI Media Resources
    The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) uses laser pulses to give a view of the 3D structure of the Earth. GEDI’s precise measurements of the height and vertical structure of forest canopy, along with the surface elevation, will greatly advance our ability to characterize important carbon and water cycling processes, biodiversity, and habitat. The mission is led by the University of Maryland, College Park, and the instrument was built and tested at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. GEDI observes nearly all tropical and temperate forests using a self-contained laser altimeter on the International Space Station. GEDI has the highest resolution and densest sampling of any lidar ever put in orbit. This has required a number of innovative technologies to be developed at NASA Goddard. GEDI has three lasers that produce 8 parallel tracks of observations. Each laser fires 242 times per second and illuminates a 25-meter footprint on the surface over which 3D structure is measured. Each footprint is separated by 60 meters along the track, with an across-track distance of about 600 m between each of the 8 tracks. GEDI is expected to produce about 10 billion cloud-free observations during its nominal 24-month mission length. With these observations, GEDI will provide answers to how deforestation has contributed to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, how much carbon forests will absorb in the future, and how habitat degradation will affect global biodiversity. This data is of immense value for forest and water resource management, carbon cycle science, and weather prediction. For more information about GEDI:
  • GOES-T Overview and Beauty Shots
    NOAA’s GOES-T is the third satellite in the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) – R Series, the Western Hemisphere’s most sophisticated weather observing and environmental monitoring system. The GOES-R Series provides advanced imagery and atmospheric measurements, real-time mapping of lightning activity, and space weather monitoring. After GOES-T launches, it will be renamed GOES-18 once it reaches geostationary orbit. Following a successful on-orbit checkout of its instruments and systems, NOAA plans to put GOES-T immediately into operational service, replacing GOES-17 as GOES West. GOES-18 will work in tandem with GOES-16, NOAA’s operational GOES East satellite. Together, GOES-16 and GOES-18 will watch over more than half the globe – from the west coast of Africa to New Zealand. GOES-17 will become an on-orbit spare.
  • GPM Core Spacecraft Beauty Passes
    A variety of animated beauty passes of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core spacecraft.
  • ICESat-2 Beauty Pass
    The Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2, or ICESat-2, is a laser altimeter that will measure the heights of Earth’s surfaces. With ICESat-2’s high-resolution data, scientists will track changes to Earth’s ice-covered poles, which is witnessing dramatic temperature increases. The mission will also take stock of forests, map ocean surfaces, characterize clouds and more.

    ICESat-2 carries a single instrument called the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), equipped with a multiple-beam laser, which sends 10,000 pulses of light to the ground each second. A small fraction of the light photons bounce off Earth’s surface and return to the instrument, where a photon-counting detector times their flight. Knowing this time, and the satellite’s position and orientation in space, scientists can calculate Earth’s elevation below.

    ICESat-2 continues key elevation observations begun by the original ICESat satellite (2003 to 2009) and Operation IceBridge (2009 through present), to provide a portrait of change in the beginning of the 21st century.

  • Landsat 9 Spacecraft Animations and Stills
    Landsat 9 is a collaboration between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, and will continue the Landsat program’s critical role in monitoring, understanding and managing the land resources needed to sustain human life. The mission will provide moderate-resolution (15 meter to 100 meter, depending on spectral frequency) measurements of the Earth's terrestrial and polar regions in visible, near-infrared, short wave infrared, and thermal infrared wavelengths. There are two instruments on the spacecraft, the Thermal InfraRed Sensor 2 (TIRS-2) and the Operational Land Imager 2 (OLI-2). Landsat 9 will provide continuity with the nearly 50-year long Landsat land imaging data set. In addition to widespread routine use for land use planning and monitoring on regional to local scales, support of disaster response and evaluations, and water use monitoring, Landsat measurements directly serve NASA research in the focus areas of climate, carbon cycle, ecosystems, water cycle, biogeochemistry, and Earth surface/interior. The Landsat program is the only U.S. satellite system designed and operated to repeatedly observe the global land surface at a moderate scale that shows both natural and human-induced change.
  • NOAA-N Prime Beauty Shot Animation
    An artist concept of the spacecraft. The microwave instruments on board NOAA-N Prime are so sensitive that they can see Earth's surface through clouds. NOAA-N Prime will deliver essential atmospheric and surface parameters to use in scientific forecast models. N Prime provides essential critical information for creating accurate weather forecasts 2-3 days in advance.
  • PACE Satellite Animations
    PACE is NASA's Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem mission, currently in the design phase of mission development. It is scheduled to launch in 2022, extending and improving NASA's over 20-year record of satellite observations of global ocean biology, aerosols (tiny particles suspended in the atmosphere), and clouds. PACE will advance the assessment of ocean health by measuring the distribution of phytoplankton, tiny plants and algae that sustain the marine food web. It will also continue systematic records of key atmospheric variables associated with air quality and Earth's climate.
  • Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Live Shot Page 1.29.15
    NASA scientists talk about the launch of the Soil Moisture Active Passive - or SMAP - satellite scheduled to launch on Jan 29. SMAP will take stock of the water hidden just beneath your feet, in the topsoil. Knowing how much water is in the soil, and whether it is frozen or thawed, has profound applications for society, from better forecasting of natural disasters like floods and droughts to helping prevent food shortages. How SMAP's radiometer works. How SMAP will help weather forecasts. More about SMAP. NASA TV's video file.
  • Terra Spacecraft
    Animations depicting the Terra Spacecraft on orbit
  • TROPICS Mission Animations
    The NASA Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission is a constellation of state-of-the-science observing platforms that will measure temperature and humidity soundings and precipitation with spatial resolution comparable to current operational passive microwave sounders but with unprecedented temporal resolution (median revisit time of 50 minutes).

    Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

Planetary Missions

  • Dragonfly Animation Resource Page
    Dragonfly is a NASA mission to explore the chemistry and habitability of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. The fourth mission in the New Frontiers line, Dragonfly will send an autonomously-operated rotorcraft to visit dozens of sites on Titan, investigating the moon’s surface and shallow subsurface for organic molecules and possible biosignatures. To carry out its mission, Dragonfly is equipped with a neutron spectrometer, a drill system, and a mass spectrometer, allowing scientists to make a detailed survey of Titan’s chemical makeup. Dragonfly is scheduled to launch in 2026 and arrive at Titan in 2034. The animations on this page were produced to illustrate a science overview video for Dragonfly.
  • Juno Interplanetary Dust: Animations
    Look up to the night sky just before dawn, or after dusk, and you might see a faint column of light extending up from the horizon. That luminous glow is the zodiacal light, or sunlight reflected toward Earth by a cloud of tiny dust particles orbiting the Sun. Astronomers have long thought that the dust is brought into the inner solar system by a few of the asteroid and comet families that venture in from afar. But now, a team of Juno scientists argues that the planet Mars may be the culprit. An instrument aboard the Juno spacecraft serendipitously detected dust particles slamming into the spacecraft during its journey from Earth to Jupiter. The impacts provided important clues to the origin and orbital evolution of the dust, resolving some mysterious variations of the zodiacal light.

    This page provides artist concept animations of Juno during its trek to Jupiter, and its observations of interplanetary dust impacts along the way. Learn more about this discovery.

  • LADEE Spacecraft Animations
    LADEE over the lunar surface with LLCD instrument
  • Lucy Mission Animations
    Beyond the asteroid belt are "fossils of planet formation" known as the Trojan asteroids. These primitive bodies share Jupiter's orbit, and may hold clues to the formation and evolution of our solar system. NASA is preparing to explore the Trojan asteroids for the first time with a mission called Lucy, which will launch in 2021 and visit seven asteroids over twelve years. Like the famous hominid fossil for which it is named, the Lucy mission will improve our understanding of the ancient past, and be the first to uncover these fossils of planet formation.
  • Lucy Deployment Animations
    These animations show the Lucy spacecraft right after stage one seperations and follow it through fairing seperation, release from the Centaur module, solar panel deployment and main engine burn.
  • MAVEN Mars Orbital Insertion and Instrument Deploys
    These animations depict MAVEN's arrival at Mars on September 21, 2014, and the ensuing science instrument deployments. The animations begin with MAVEN's orbital insertion engine burn near the Martian north pole. The deployments include MAVEN's LPW, SWEA and APP instruments.
  • OSIRIS-REx Mission Design: Cruise and Arrival Animations
    After launching from Earth on September 8, 2016, OSIRIS-REx spent over two years on its outbound cruise to asteroid Bennu. The spacecraft approached the asteroid in August 2018 and captured its first images of Bennu using its long-range camera, PolyCam. OSIRIS-REx officially arrived at Bennu on December 3, 2018, and began studying the asteroid in preparation for sample collection in 2020.
  • Thirty Seconds on Asteroid Bennu: Animation
    On October 20, 2020, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft collected a sample of asteroid Bennu. The event revealed surprising details about Bennu’s surface and near-subsurface.

    00:01 - One second after contact, OSIRIS-REx injected Bennu with pressurized nitrogen gas, causing an explosion of particles and driving loose material into its sample collector.

    00:06 - Six seconds after contact, while it was still sinking into Bennu, OSIRIS-REx fired its thrusters to begin the back-away maneuver.

    00:09 - Nine seconds after contact, thrusters on board OSIRIS-REx halted its descent into Bennu, pushing it away from the asteroid, and blasting loose material from the sample site. The spacecraft’s arm had sunk almost half a meter beneath the surface – far deeper than expected, confirming that Bennu’s surface is incredibly weak.

    00:16 - Sixteen seconds after contact, the arm fully reemerged from the subsurface. OSIRIS-REx had collected a handful of material and kicked up roughly six tons of loose rock.

    00:30 - Thirty seconds after contact, it shut off its thrusters and drifted away from Bennu. OSIRIS-REx will return its sample to Earth in September 2023.

    Learn more about the surface properties of asteroid Bennu.

  • OSIRIS-REx Farewell to Bennu: Animation
    At approximately 4:16 p.m. EDT on May 10, 2021, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft will fire its main thrusters for seven minutes and start its long journey home with more than 60 grams (2.1 ounces) of asteroid material in its Sample Return Capsule. OSIRIS-REx's departure sequence is the mission's largest maneuver since it arrived at Bennu in 2018. The thrusters have to change the spacecraft velocity by 266 meters per second (0.16 mile per second) for OSIRIS-REx's path to intersect Earth and achieve a successful sample return at the Utah Test and Training Range on September 24, 2023, between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. EDT.
  • OSIRIS-REx TAG Event: Real-time Animation
    On October 20, 2020, NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft briefly touched down on near-Earth asteroid Bennu and collected a sample of pristine material for return to Earth. The Touch-And-Go (TAG) Event was a feat of engineering, carefully monitored by mission controllers at Lockheed Martin Space and broadcast live on NASA-TV. During the broadcast, the real-time animation above allowed viewers to follow OSIRIS-REx as it slowly maneuvered to the surface of Bennu. This animation is based on the spacecraft's nominal trajectory and an accurate 3D model of the asteroid's terrain. Broadcast playback was adjusted for the light-time delay from Bennu to Earth (plus signal processing), providing viewers with a real-time window onto the TAG Event. Highlights can be found at the following animation time steps (hours: minutes: seconds): 00:29:03 - First move to Y-Wing configuration 00:34:29 - Second move to Y-Wing configuration 00:39:54 - Y-Wing configuration complete 00:43:27 - Checkpoint engine burn start 00:54:34 - Matchpoint engine burn start 01:05:10 - TOUCH asteroid Bennu 01:05:18 - Back-away engine burn start 01:06:43 - Begin slew to Pegasus configuration Animation frames are organized into chapters for ease of download.

Communications Satellites

  • LCRD Instrument Animation
    LCRD deploys and points toward Earth
  • TDRS Heart of Communication
    The most recent evaluations of NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) project confirmed all systems go for TDRS-K, a third generation upgrade of the orbiting communications network. TDRS-K is scheduled for launch aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida during the 2012 holiday season.
  • TDRS-K Video File
    NASA is preparing to launch the first in a series of three third generation advanced Tracking and Data Relay Satellites, known as TDRS-K. This latest addition to the fleet of seven will augment a space communications network that provides the critical path for high data-rate communication to the International Space Station, Hubble Space Telescope, past shuttle missions and a host of other spacecraft.

    It has been 10 years since NASA last launched a TDRS. This launch is the beginning of a welcome replenishment to the space network, which has served numerous national and international space missions since 1983.

Past Missions

  • Aquarius
    Aquarius spacecraft in orbit around the Earth
  • CHIPSat Spacecraft
    CHIPSat passes along the equator
  • CNOFS beauty pass
    The Communication/Navigation Outage Forcasting System (C/NOFS) is designed to detect and forcast scintillations in the Earth's ionosphere which result in decreased satellite to ground communications and to alert users of impending satellite communication outages.
  • EO-1 Spacecraft
    EO-1 Takes High Resolution images of Earth
  • Firefly Beauty Pass
    The small satellite, with a big mission, is appropriately named "Firefly." Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the pint-sized satellite will study the most powerful natural particle accelerator on Earth - lightning - when it launches from the Marshall Islands aboard an Air Force Falcon 1E rocket vehicle next year. In particular, Firefly will focus on Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs), a little understood phenomenon first discovered by NASA's Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory in the early 1990s.

    Although no one knows why, it appears these flashes of gamma rays that were once thought to occur only far out in space near black holes or other high-energy cosmic phenomena are somehow linked to lightning.

    Using measurements gathered by Firefly's instruments, Goddard scientist Doug Rowland and his collaborators - Universities Space Research Association in Columbia, Md., Siena College, located near Albany, N.Y., and the Hawk Institute for Space Studies in Pocomoke City, Md. - hope to answer what causes these high-energy flashes. In particular, they want to find out if lightning triggers them or if they trigger lightning. Could they be responsible for some of the high-energy particles in the Van Allen radiation belts, which damage satellites? Firefly is expected to observe up to 50 lightning strokes per day, and about one large TGF every couple days.

  • GOES-M
    Goes-M is the latest in the fleet of satellites that bring us weather information on a daily basis
  • GRACE Beauty Pass Animations
    GRACE, Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment - twin satellites launched in March 2002, are making detailed measurements of Earth's gravity field which will lead to discoveries about gravity and Earth's natural systems. These discoveries could have far-reaching benefits to society and the world's population.
  • ICESat Spacecraft
    Animations of the ICESat spacecraft on orbit
  • IXO Spacecraft
    Delpoy and beauty shot of the IXO spacecraft
  • Landsat 7 Spacecraft Animations
    The seventh satellite in the long-running Landsat program was launched on April 15, 1999 and is the most accurately calibrated Earth-observing satellite, i.e., its measurements are extremely accurate when compared to the same measurements made on the ground. Landsat 7's sensor has been called "the most stable, best characterized Earth observation instrument ever placed in orbit." Landsat 7's rigorous calibration standards have made it the validation choice for many coarse-resolution sensors.

    Created for the 10th anniversary of the launch of Landsat 7.

  • POLAR Spacecraft in orbit
    POLAR looks at the polar aurora and sun-earth connection long term effects.
  • RHESSI Spacecraft
    RHSSI studies the basic physics of particle acceleration and explosive energy release in solar flares
  • Spartan 201
    A shuttle payload instrument, Spartan deploys from the bay and is returned to Earth with the shuttle.
  • Suzaku (formerly Astro-E2) Spacecraft
    An animation depicting the Suzaku/Astro-E2 spacecraft on orbit. Suzaku maintains a low Earth orbit while it observes X-rays from the Universe. The satellite was developed at the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS, which is part of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA.) in collaboration with Japanese and US institutions including NASA.
  • TRMM Data Swath Close-up View (TRMM Ride)
    This is one of a series of animations created for the TRMM pre-launch package.
  • The WMAP Spacecraft
    Scientists using NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anistropy Probe (WMAP) have created the most detailed portrait of the infant Universe. By capturing the afterglow of the Big Bang, called the cosmic microwave background (CMB), we now believe the Universe to be 13.7 billion years olf. Encoded in these patterns is much-anticipated information about the fundamental properties of the early Universe. WMAP launched on June 30, 2001.