Uncrewed spacecraft

Uncrewed or unmanned spacecraft are spacecraft without people on board, used for robotic spaceflight. Uncrewed spacecraft may have varying levels of autonomy from human input; they may be remote controlled, remote guided or even autonomous, meaning they have a pre-programmed list of operations, which they will execute unless otherwise instructed.

  • Top: The uncrewed resupply vessel Progress M-06M (upper-left). Galileo space probe, prior to departure from Earth orbit in 1989 (right). The uncrewed ATV-2 Johannes Kepler approaches the crewed space station ISS (lower-left).
  • Bottom: Spaceplane Buran was launched, orbited Earth, and landed as an uncrewed spacecraft in 1988 (shown at an airshow).

Many habitable spacecraft also have varying levels of robotic features. For example, the space stations Salyut 7 and Mir, and the International Space Station module Zarya, were capable of remote guided station-keeping and docking maneuvers with both resupply craft and new modules. The most common uncrewed spacecraft categories are robotic spacecraft, uncrewed resupply spacecraft, space probes and space observatories. Not every uncrewed spacecraft is a robotic spacecraft; for example, a reflector ball is a non-robotic uncrewed spacecraft.


For a more detailed list, see List of Solar System probes.

Selected lunar probes

Mars probes

Venus probes

Gas giant probes

Comet and asteroid probes

Solar observation probes

  • Ulysses — solar particles and fields (ended 2009)
  • Genesis — first solar wind sample return mission, 2001–2004 (crash)
  • Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) — launched October 19, 2008.
  • Advanced Composition Explorer — solar particles and fields observation at Earth-Sun L1 point
  • STEREO — pair of probes in solar orbits providing 3D observations of Sun
  • SOHO — Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, observer for Sun's corona and core located at L1 point

Other Solar System probes

Technology demonstrators

  • OREX (Orbital Re-Entry EXperiment) — Japanese atmospheric reentry and heat shield demonstrator (successfully flown in February 1994)
  • Atmospheric Reentry Demonstrator (ARD) — European atmospheric reentry and heat shield demonstrator (successfully flown in October 1998)
  • HYFLEX (Hypersonic Flight Experiment) — Japanese uncrewed spaceplane atmospheric reentry demonstrator (successfully flown in February 1996)
  • Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV) — European uncrewed spaceplane atmospheric reentry demonstrator (successfully flown in February 2015)

Uncrewed resupply spacecraft

See also

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