Science and Technology

What is a spacecraft?


We receive beautiful pictures of the universe from NASA. There was a time when we used to believe some of the wrong aspects of the universe. Just because we were unable to observe them directly, we only had ideas that we made from a distance. Earth was the center of the solar system. It was never moving rather stagnant. But the whole scenario became contrary when we received beautiful pictures of the solar system. Although at that time we were unable to watch it on our own, those pictures were defining the insights. It rejected previous ideas, replaced them with new ones, and then took us closer to reality. That’s true, some of the initial photographs were not elaborating a lot but at least it discarded a very bogus notion about the universe.

A spacecraft which is meant for exploring universe

 Now we are able enough to know the origin of the universe. From the very beginning and till now, how all preceded forming a complex where we all are living today. And it is not the end of the world, there are countless innovations and finding, we are at the edge and will explore them in the future. The whole mysterious story is possible by the service of spacecraft that it provides to humanity. A long time ago, the Hubble telescope was sent into space for receiving details of the place. It helped us enormously. And then recently another milestone acheivemnt in the form of the James Webb telescope. All curious seekers are anxious to receive beautiful photographs. We had gained enough via Hubble but what else James Webb is going to explore is beyond the ideas and can only be acknowledged after having it.

This article is going to explore the details of the spacecraft because this is what is important in the whole progress in the field of astronomy.


It is a vehicle that we design and operate with or without any crew. It flies above the earth’s atmosphere in a very controlled pattern. There is a particular streamline of the spacecraft but it does not have an advantage. The design of every spacecraft is according to the mission that it will perform in space.

Parts of spacecraft:

Spacecraft is te unit of soe of the essential components such as power subsystem, engin, steering system and communicatiin system. Also, there are some of the scientifuc instruments fited in it. All of these li in service module and the scientific instruments manufactures payload module.

First spacecraft in space:

Soviet Union’s Sputnik 1 was the first-ever spacecraft that was launched into space in 1957. It is 83.6 kg. After it, another spacecraft followed it in 1961. Now this is an ongoing process for exploring the hidden realities of the universe. All of these are providing us important services such as forecasting of weather or telecommunication.

Launching spacecraft into space:

The initial velocity of the spacecraft is provided by the rocket which is used for this purpose. It seperates from the spacecraft after performing its task. Typically it orbits around the earth. But sometimes with enough velocity, it crosses the earth’s gravity and go far away to the destination where it performs its task. It also has its own small engine that orients it into space.

Spacecraft is ready to be launched into space
Launching Spacecraft GIF

There was a rocket engine in Lunar Module, used in the Apollo program. It helped it to land on the moon and then leave the lunar orbit. There are three liquid-fuel engines in disposable tanks. It is used in the US space shuttle orbiters.

Electric source for spacecraft:

Spacecraft requires an electric source that can operate it. The design of space crafts that orbits in Earth’s orbits for a long time has a solar panel in its design for working. It is in conjunction with the storage batteries. A shuttle orbiter that remains in space for one or a week uses hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells. For example, in 1995, a Galileo spacecraft was launched into space and was meant to orbit around Jupiter. In 1997, a Cassini spacecraft was launched to orbit around Saturn. Both of them have a power supply via a long-lived radioisotope thermoelectric generator. There is a conversion of heat that plutonium releases into electricity for the functioning of the spacecraft.

Solar panels meant for converting solar radiations into electricity
Solar panels

Solar energy source:

A spacecraft acts like a satellite that orbits around the earth or around any other celestial body. It is closer enough to the sun that it can easily use solar radiation as a source of energy. There is some solar panel that fits into it for the conversion of solar energy into electric energy. This electricity will charge the batteries fitted inside the spacecraft. This electric storage will help spacecraft to orbit even if it goes away from the sun. All the space crafts used by NASA Mar’s exploration mission use solar energy as a source of electricity.

If a spacecraft go away from the sun then its have large solar panels in its construction. If it goes away, should have enough energy for filling the gap. The NASA Juno spacecraft uses solar energy to orbit around Jupiter. Each of them consists of three solar arrays which are 30 feet long.


Solar power is not workable for every spacecraft. It has to orbit away from the sun for a long time then there may be a short electric supply. Also, it is weather sensitive. If a planet is dark or dusty such as the moon then it can’t work for it. If spacecraft has to work away from the sun then it needs another energy source other than Sun. For this purpose, scientists have developed electric batteries that can work for a much longer time.

Electric batteries:

We use it for those missions that are for a short amount of time. For example, Huygen launching was on the surface of Saturn’s moon. It has a battery as an electric source in it. The whole mission is of a few hours and the batteries performed well. These batteries are very tough to design because they have to work in the very harsh environment of the space. Also, it needs recharging several times. NASA scientists have invented new ways in which they are now able to store a large amount of energy into small-sized batteries for a long time.

Atomic energy:

As we all know the atom is the building block of the universe. Every matter that comprises this universe is of atoms. There is a lot of energy that holds atoms together. Some of the atoms called radioisotopes are unable to hold together and fall apart. As they fall apart, they release a large amount of energy. Now, a radioisotope power system uses this energy as a source of electricity source. The heat produced from the unstable isotopes and the cold in space produces a temperature difference.

Scientists use this temperature difference for the production of electricity. NASA uses this energy for its various space missions. The mission to Pluto, Saturn, and space uses atomic energy as an electric source. It is able to produce electricity for a longer time, even in harsh conditions. Two Voyager space crafts of NASA used this type of energy. They are able to travel far away than another man-made object. Also, it is sending information to the earth even after working in space for more than 40 years.

Automated Transfer Vehicle:

ATV is an unscrewed spacecraft of the European Space Agency. From 2008 to 2014, it carries information to the International Space Station. Jules Verne was the first AVT and named after the author’s name that launched it in March 2008. It is one of the largest space crafts that were ever launched. A cylindrical spacecraft, 10.3 meters in length and 4.5 meters in width. There were two modules such as Integrated Cargo Carrier and the service module.

AVT diagram representing its various parts
Automated Teller Vehicle

The ICC module:

 The ICC is able to carry 16, 903 pounds to ISS. It is further classified into two modules. One is the front pressurized module which carries science experiments, food, hardware, and rare nonpressurized module. There were 22 tanks having water, fuel, and air for ISS.

The service module:

 The other is the service module that contained the electronics and propulsion of the ATV. There were four solar panels that are there in the Service module. Each of them is 36.7 feet in length and supplies power to the ATV. It was launched on Ariane 5 launch vehicle. All approaches and docking work automatically. Initially, it used its onboard fuel to keep orbit from decaying. Nearly, after a duration of six months, there are several tons of waste in AVT. It then burns and returns to the Earth’s atmosphere.

Johannes Kepler, a second AVT, on the name of German astronomer who launched it in 2011. Then the third AVT, name after an Italian physicist who launched it in 2012. There were only two more ATVs, launched after Edoardo. One was launched in 2013 named Albert Einstein and the other was Georges Lemaitre.

Wrapping up/ Conclusion:

Spacecraft is a vehicle that we design and operate with or without a crew. A rocket is used for launching it into space. The initial propelling of the craft is by the velocity of the rocket. After achieving its mission, it separates from it. There are various energy sources that are in spacecraft such as batteries, atomic energy, or batteries. One of the best and long-lasting sources of energy is the use of solar panels. But if it has to remain away from the sun for a long time off work in a harsh climate then batteries or atomic energy is good enough. There are various space crafts that have been launched by NASA into space for fulfilling their various missions. This process is going on and we are going to explore various aspects in the future.

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