Spacecraft Landers

Overview of Spacecraft Landers

The first man made object to land on a surface, other then the Earth, was Lunik 2. This Russian impact satellite was designed with sensors to measure radiation and magnetic fields on the way to the Moon, but it was not designed to function after impact with the Moons surface.

In 1966 Lunar 9 successfully made a controlled decent to the surface of the Moon, this eggs shaped probe then opened to reveal a camera and radio antenna.

Since 1966 there have been 40 successful soft landings on non-terrestrial planetary bodies, that returned scientific or photographic data to the Earth, these include

  • 10 successful landings on Venus
  • 7 successful landings on Mars
  • 19 successful landings on the Earths Moon, of which 9 returned samples (6 manned returns and 3 robotic sample returns)
  • 1 to Titan, one of Saturn’s Moons (This was designed to be the first floating lander)
  • 2 to asteroids Eros and Itokawa, the Itokawa lander also returned a small amount of dust from the Asteroids surface
  • 1 to a Comet, the Philae lander which was part of the Rosetta mission that ended in 2016

Most of these are Landers, but some are Planetary Rovers which will be looked at in more detail in our next lesson.

Click Here to view the Data Sheet for Successful Lander & Rovers
Lander / RoverLocationSpace AgencyDateOther Info
1Luna 9MoonROSCOSMOS1966First Lander
2Surveyor 1MoonNASA1966
3Lunar 13MoonROSCOSMOS1966
4Surveyor 3MoonNASA1967First to be visited by Man
5Surveyor 5MoonNASA1967
6Surveyor 6MoonNASA1967
7Surveyor 7MoonNASA1968
8Apollo 11MoonNASA1969First Manned Landing
9Apollo 12MoonNASA19692nd Manned Landing
10Luna 16MoonROSCOSMOS1970First Robotic Sample Return
11Luna 16 / Lunokhod 1MoonROSCOSMOS1970First Robotic Rover
12Venera 7VenusROSCOSMOS19701st successful Venus lander
13Apollo 14MoonNASA19713rd Manned Landing
14Apollo 15MoonNASA19714th Manned Landing
15Luna 20MoonROSCOSMOS19722nd Robotic Sample Return
16Apollo 16MoonNASA19725th Manned Landing
17Venera 8VenusROSCOSMOS1972
18Apollo 17MoonNASA19726th (Latest) Manned Landing
19Luna 21 / Lunokhod 2MoonROSCOSMOS19732nd Robotic Rover
20Venera 9VenusROSCOSMOS1975
21Venera 10VenusROSCOSMOS1975
22Viking 1MarsNASA1976First Successful Mars Lander
23Luna 24MoonROSCOSMOS19763rd Robotic Sample Return
24Viking 2MarsNASA1976
25Venera 12VenusROSCOSMOS1978Arrived Dec 21st
26Venera 11VenusROSCOSMOS1978Arrived Dec 25th
27Venera 13VenusROSCOSMOS1982
28Venera 14VenusROSCOSMOS1982
29Vega 1VenusROSCOSMOS1985Partial success
30Vega 2VenusROSCOSMOS1985
31Pathfinder / SojournerMarsNASA19971st Airbag Landing, 1st Rover
32NEAR ShoemakerEros*NASA2001Orbiter turned Lander
33MER-A ‘Spirit’MarsNASA20043rd Rover
34MER-B ‘Opportunity’MarsNASA20044th Rover
35Huygens probeTitanESA2005First Lander on Titan
36HayabusaItokawa*JAXA2005Sample Return
37PhoenixMarsNASA20085th Rover
38CuriosityMarsNASA20126th Rover
39Chang’e 3MoonCNSA2013
40PhilaeComet 67PESA2014First Lander on Comet
*Asteroids
Those that nearly made it
1Luna 5, 7 and 8MoonROSCOSMOS1965
Three attempts by Russia to achieve the first soft landing on the Moon, all failed but Russia managed it on the 4th attempt with Luna 9.
2Mars 3 landerMarsROSCOSMOS1971
Landed Successfully on Mars and But lost transmission after 20 seconds so could not send data. Could have been the first successful lander, on Mars.
3Mars 3 landerMarsROSCOSMOS1974
Landed Successfully on Mars and But did not achieve contact with Earth so could not send data. Could have been the first successful lander, on Mars.
4Phobos 2PhobosROSCOSMOS1989
Russias failed attempt at landing on Phobos,  Mars’ largest Moon
5Beagle 2MarsUK / ESA2003
Landed successfully on Mars but its solar panels did not deploy properly so it could not send data.

Mars Express: Beagle 2 Lander

Introducing Spacecraft Landers with the example of the UK developed Beagle 2 and its PAW (Position Adjustable Workbench)

Mars Express was launched in 2003, developed by a consortium of 15 European countries and the USA and launched on a Russian Soyuz rocket. The Beagle 2 lander was designed to look for life signs in Mars soil and to monitor Martian weather. The Beagle 2 lander had many parts and functions, but this activity will focus on its PAW (Position Adjustable Workbench) a collection of sensors attached to a robotic arm powered by various motors.

Beagle 2 – PAW Sensors

Beagle's Position Adjustable Workbench

In order to interact with our environment we all must have ways to sense it. This is very important when doing scientific investigations or when making automated machines.

For example when you travel on a bus, it picks you up and takes you to your stop.

Automated Bus Stop Model

Think about what sensors an automated Bus would need in order to do the same task without a human driver.

Things to Consider

How many times do the Buses wheels turn? How large are the Buses Wheels? How does it know when to Stop and Go? How does it know not to break the speed limit? How does it know it is facing the right direction?

When designing a Robot all of these details and more need to be considered. The maths we calculate unconsciously during our daily activities need to be calculated for a robot to do the same things that we take for granted.

More information about Beagle 2

Beagle 2 was named, by Professor Collin Pillinger and his team at the Open University and in partnership with Leicester University, after the ship (HMS Beagle) that Charles Darwin was a passenger on when he developed his theories on evolution.

The Mars probe included sensors to search for life on Mars and is a good example of using sensors and motors to conduct scientific missions.

Watch the ESA Video for Mars Express – Beagle 2

In order to learn about automated vehicles, we can use Robotics kits such as those produced by LEGO Education, let’s investigate a LEGO Lander.

Look at a LEGO Spacecraft Lander

EV3's PAW

LEGO Education have produced equipment for building robots, which can be used to simulate a Mars lander such as Beagle 2. Its sensors measure different things but are still there to allow the Robot to interact with the world around it.

If sent to Mars we would be able to find out the temperature of the Mars environment around the lander and see what colour the surface of Mars is. We can use LEGO and our own bodies to learn about Mars Landers and why humans send robots into Space.

Think About the Landing

Before a Lander or Rover can start its mission it needs to get from an orbiter to the planetary surface, this can be a difficult process having to take into account the atmospheric and gravitational forces involved in landing. A good activity would be to investigate how you would safely land on the Earth and compare this to the forces involved on other planets.

Try the Game from the KHAN Academy. KHANAcademy.org – Can you safely land on another planet?

Power Consumption

The Lego lander has a rechargeable battery which is drained by using the robots motors and sensors.  Beagle also had a rechargeable battery and a set of solar panels to charge it during the Mars day. On Earth we can charge a rover by plugging it into the mains, on other planets it would be more difficult. If we were to charge the lander on Earth with Solar Panels, what would be need to consider? On other planets the amount of sunlight will vary depending on the atmosphere of the planet and how far it is from our Sun, for this reason nuclear power is sometimes used.

Further Materials, Resources & Information

Below you will find more resources and external websites related to this lesson.

  • DKfindout.com – Can you tell Sputnik from a space shuttle? Do you know which machine first photographed the dark side of the Moon? Test your knowledge of early space probes in this quick 10-question quiz!
  • beagle2.open.ac.uk – The Beagle 2 project is the British led effort to land on Mars as part of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express Mission, launched in June 2003.
  • KHANAcademy.org – Can you safely land on another planet?
  • Climatekids.nasa.gov/power-up – Capture clean energy from the wind and the Sun to produce enough electricity to run the town.

Full STEAM Ahead – Space Exploration Education Grant

UK Space AgencyThis lesson has been produced as part of the Full STEAM Ahead Project with the UK Space Agency. We are one of eight organisations across the UK to be awarded to deliver and produce exciting new education outreach activities and projects. The UK Space Agency are delighted to be able to support these projects, which represent a diverse selection of cross-curricular activities that meet it’s education objectives in encouraging children to take up STEAM subjects, raise awareness of careers in space-related areas, and raise awareness of the UK’s exploration programme.


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