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Introduction to Spacecraft and Space Missions

Class 7
Jun 12, 2023


A spacecraft is a machine built to go through beyond the atmosphere of the Earth and space. It gives us a way to travel from the Earth to space and its celestial bodies.

A spacecraft is a form of artificial satellite used for a wide range of tasks such as communications.

  • Earth observation
  • Meteorology
  • Navigation
  • Space colonization
  • Planetary exploration, cargo, and person transfer

All spacecraft require a launch vehicle to enter space (carrier rocket) except the single-stage-to-orbit rockets. The design and purpose of a spacecraft determine the type of rocket.



The Majority of Spacecraft Can Be Divided into the Following Groups:

  • Spacecraft
  • Earth-Orbit-Satellite
  • Space probe


These are generally crewed spacecraft used to transport people into space. Numerous crewed spacecraft have been launched into orbit. The first crewed spacecraft ever launched by the USSR was Vostok 1. They include several well-known spacecraft, such as Apollo 11, which carried Neil Armstrong and his crew to the Moon.


Galileo created the first telescope in 1608. His telescope made faraway objects appear closer and larger by using two lenses. Refracting telescopes, sometimes known as refractors, are telescopes that use lenses to bend light (Figure below).


All orbit-satellites that orbit the Earth fall under the category of “Earth-Orbit Satellites.” The Hubble Telescope is one of the most famous satellites in Earth’s orbit. Artificial satellites are robotic spacecraft that continue to circle a planet.

Hubble space telescope

Space Probes:

Unmanned spacecraft called space probes are equipped with scientific instruments for studying celestial bodies like planets, the Moon, and the Sun. Space probes are robotic satellites used to help in scientific study. Only a small number of interstellar probes—Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, and New Horizons—are now on trajectories that leave the solar system.


Types of Space Missions:

  • A spacecraft that is performing a sub-orbital spaceflight launches into orbit but then descends to Earth’s surface before gaining enough momentum or energy to complete a full orbit.
  • Spacecraft enter fixed orbits around the Earth or other celestial bodies for orbital spaceflights.
  • The spacecraft used which are for robotic space missions operate either autonomously or telerobotically, and those used for human spaceflight have people on board as crew or passengers either from launch or only while in orbit (space stations).

Is It Possible to Retrieve an Orbiting Spacecraft or Not?

The majority are not. Using re-entry to Earth, recoverable spacecraft can be separated into winged spaceplanes and non-winged space capsules. Spacecraft that may be recovered may be either reusable (able to launch multiple times, as the SpaceX Dragon and the Space Shuttle orbiters) or disposable (like the Soyuz). More space agencies are moving toward reusable spacecraft in recent years.


Reusable Spacecraft:

On July 19, 1963, this first reusable spacecraft was air-launched on a suborbital trajectory. Unlike aircraft that rely on the atmosphere and wings or propellers, spacecraft have a distinct way of flying. Strong rockets are used to launch spacecraft from the Earth into orbit. Once a spacecraft successfully escapes the atmosphere of the Earth, it is propelled once more by rockets to place it in an orbit around the planet. The spacecraft does not re-enter Earth’s atmosphere while in orbit.

Space Planes:

Spacecraft that resembles airplanes and perform like them are called spaceplanes. The North American X-15 spaceplane, which made two crewed flights in the 1960s and ascended to a height of nearly 100 kilometers, served as the first example of this.

space plane


Boosters are a feature of deeps pace spacecraft, which travel outside the lunar and planetary spheres. The spaceship uses its boosters to go toward its objective once the rockets have successfully propelled it beyond the Earth’s escape velocity.

Additionally, the spacecraft doesn’t require constant propulsion from the rockets in orbit to keep going at its current speed. Because there isn’t any air in space to produce air friction and slow down spacecraft like there is on Earth, space travel is far faster.


List of Historic Spacecraft:

Vostok 1

This spacecraft created history by being the first vehicle to carry a person into orbit around the Earth. The USSR created and built Vostok 1, which was launched in 1961.


Apollo 11

Apollo 11 is the only spacecraft whose effect has been felt by most people worldwide because it was used to transport Neil Armstrong and the other crew members to the Moon, where they first stepped foot in 1969.

Apollo - 11

Hubble Telescope

Astronomers use the Hubble Telescope as a space observatory to investigate the cosmos. Since 1990, it has been in a fixed orbit around the planet.

hubble space telescope

German Spacecraft V-2:

V-2 was the first spacecraft to launch into orbit. Germany built it, and it was launched in 1944.

German V spacecraft

Sputnik 1:

The next significant development was placing a satellite in an orbit around the Earth. The USSR achieved it with the launch of Sputnik 1, its first satellite, in 1957. Everyone wanted to send their satellite after the launch of Sputnik 1, which further heightened the competition. Following this, the USSR and America started a space competition that sped up the creation of cutting-edge spacecraft.

Spacecraft and Space Mission


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