Space Probes: In Pursuit of Perception Beyond Earth

space probe

With a universe so vast, shrouded in mysteries, scientists are seeking ways to decipher those unsolved dilemmas beyond the Earth. Space probes are unpiloted spacecraft that travel beyond Earth’s orbit to gather information about outer space for scientists to study. They function independently, collecting data and returning it to Earth for various analyses. Throughout history, these unmanned spacecrafts have been directed to several areas in our Solar System, toward the planets, towards moons, towards the Sun, asteroids, and comets.

Each probe which liberated from the Earth has a specific mission and is geared up with specific equipment to collect data. To travel through space, collect data, and send them back to Earth, the space probes are self-sustained in energy as they are powered by a combination of batteries and solar panels as energy sources.

Artist's impression of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, en route to a January 2019 encounter with Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69.
Image 1: Artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, en route to a January 2019 encounter with Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69.

How Do Space Probes Work?

When launched from the Earth, space probes have an independent power system that allows them to function. Depending on how far it will travel, a space probe will utilize a certain kind of power source. Most of the time, space probes will consist of multiple power sources to guarantee that a backup is available in the event that one power source fails.

Space probes typically employ one of three primary types of power sources. These consist of atomic energy, battery energy, and solar energy. By far, solar energy is the most frequent type of energy used by them. Solar panels are a common feature of most spacecraft, including manned and unmanned missions. The spacecraft and the instruments can be powered by the solar panel’s ability to capture solar light energy and transform it into mechanical and electrical energy.

Solar power has several disadvantages, one of which is that it depends on how close the spacecraft is to the Sun. As the space probe moves away from the Sun, it becomes more challenging to gather enough energy to power the space probe and its instruments on board. In these situations, the space probes have to turn to alternative energy sources. Batteries, for instance, can be employed as temporary energy sources for instruments or other scientific equipment that is used to gather data from astronomical objects. In a similar way, the radioactive decay of atom-based energy in the form of radioisotopes can give space probes long-lasting energy sources that can persist for years or even decades.

Specialized Devices and Instruments

Depending on the mission of the space probes, they have specialized equipment and instruments on board. For instance, robotic arms, drills, and containers include on them that are collecting samples of soil or gases.

In some instances, space probes might contain little, portable probes that launch from the main ship to carry out particular experiments or gather particular data. Accordingly, cameras are a piece of essential equipment that enables them to capture incredibly detailed pictures of the respective cosmic objects.

Space probes through time
Image 2: Space probes through time; Cosmic Journey by Sean McNaughton, Samuel Velasco, 5W Infographics, Matthew Twombly and Jane Vessels, NGM staff, Amanda Hobbs

Uses of Space Probes

Astronomers utilize space probes to fathom deep into the planets and other solar system objects. Among the objects that are more frequently investigated are the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto. Comets, asteroids, and meteorites are some of the other celestial bodies that they are studying.

Space probes can help researchers find answers to issues as follows.

  • Composition of a planet or planet moons.
  • The presence or absence of water.
  • The detection of life forms such as bacteria.
  • The atmospheric composition of a moon or planet.
  • The temperature on the surface of a moon or planet.

In Pursuit of Perception Beyond Earth

Kathetiras, this series of articles, probing into the course of cosmic history, through generations of space missions, is willing to open windows to witness how the scientists and engineers achieved cosmic landmarks with space probes… Stay tuned!


  1. NASA – What Is a Space Probe? (n.d.).
  2. Missions –. (n.d.). NASA Solar System Exploration.

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