Getting Spacecraft Where They Need to Go

Mission design, sometimes called trajectory or path planning, involves designing the trajectory of the spacecraft to achieve the stated science requirements. For Earth-orbiting missions, that may involve an orbit with specific ground coverage. For an interplanetary mission, that might include calculating planetary flybys for gravity assists; planning a precise flyby of a planet, asteroid or comet; or designing the rendezvous sequence and subsequent tour of a planetary system, including a landing trajectory. In conjunction with this planning is the execution of spacecraft control to also meet science requirements. Navigation determines the spacecraft’s location, guidance determines where the spacecraft should go or where it should point based on trajectory and science requirements, and control involves sensing attitude (orientation) and commanding the spacecraft to achieve the desired results, whether that be executing a trajectory maneuver or executing a series of attitude changes to accomplish an imaging campaign. APL missions achieve great science because of our ability to plan and execute intricate trajectories and attitude profiles.


APL has designed, built and operated more than 70 innovative spacecraft over its six decades of spaceflight experience. Click below to learn about some of the missions that made revolutionary discoveries, and spacecraft that will push the boundaries of exploration and investigate outstanding scientific mysteries.


Go inside APL’s space missions and research, and check out the latest news, features and discoveries from the teams that are probing mysteries from the Sun to the edge of the solar system and beyond.