Awesome Spacecraft Animations!

Ever since the breathtaking Hollywood-esque animation JPL made for Mars Exploration Rovers, I’ve loved this sort of thing.  It shows you a view of the spacecraft that no one ever gets, and in the full-length videos (launch to landing), really drives home the incredible amount of material used and then jettisoned to get these things to their destination.  So today I’m collecting some great spacecraft animations for you to enjoy!

The Moon

Here’s LADEE, the most recent NASA spacecraft sent to the Moon.  It’s a relatively simple spacecraft, but lovingly animated all the same.


Here’s the first fully successful Martian lander, Viking 1, by YouTube user rseferino1, created using Orbiter Space Flight Simulator.  Some details are slightly off, like the launch vehicle’s paint scheme and a few subtle details of the launch sequence, but it’s pretty close.

Mars Pathfinder; this animation is from NASA (and starts with actual launch footage).  You’ll notice how the animation quality of these improves as these go on.

Mars Odyssey 2001, cruise to orbit insertion, set to original music by Armen Chakmakian:

Mars Exploration Rover, posted by MAAS Digital, the company JPL contracted to produce the video:

Mars Phoenix Lander, launch to landing and surface ops:

Mars Science Laboratory: Curiosity, from upper stage burnout to roving across Mars, with detailed depictions of the major instrument packages in operation.  It’s an amazingly detailed animation; you even see all the counterweights jettisoned during entry to manipulate the vehicle’s center of gravity:

Not all missions to Mars have been successes.  This animation shows what Phobos-Grunt would have done had its upper stage/cruise stage (a modified Fregat booster) not left it stranded in a dangerously low Earth orbit.  It was a magnificent spacecraft with a very ambitious mission that would have made history by returning samples from Phobos.  One interesting comparison can be made between this and the Viking video.  While the large Viking Orbiter dropped the large Viking Lander, here the large Phobos-Grunt lander releases a small Orbiter.  That was to be Yinghuo-1, the first Chinese interplanetary spacecraft.  Phobos-Grunt has to be big, though, because it has to not only land on Phobos, but carry a vehicle to send material back.

The Outer Planets

Now, my very favorite mission, Voyager!  Set, appropriately enough, to “Voyager”, by the Alan Parsons Project.

Animation of the Galileo mission’s highlights by YouTube user Unstung using Orbiter and Blender.  Some minor quibbles: Galileo released from Atlantis has no IUS booster and is fully deployed (except for the damaged antenna, which was not even attempted to deploy for several years after launch).  Otherwise, very beautiful, and the music is lovely.  It’s a moving tribute to the spacecraft.

Also by Unstung, Cassini’s mission highlights:

Cutting-edge 1980 animation of Pioneer 11 encountering Saturn:

NASA’s official Voyager 2 Saturn encounter video, created in 1981 and demonstrating the movements of the spacecraft and its scan platform as it makes its programmed observations of the ringed planet:

Voyager 2, Uranus flyby:

Voyager 2: Neptune and Triton:

New Horizons; starts with actual launch footage (man, I never get tired of that Atlas V peeling out of there; if it seems faster than any rocket you’ve seen, you’re not wrong — New Horizons achieved the fastest speed at spacecraft separation of any spacecraft, needed to get it to Pluto in time to study the atmosphere before it all freezes out for the long Pluto winter; it passed the moon just nine hours after launch, and will reach Pluto next year with just one gravity assist at Jupiter).


There are loads more awesome spacecraft animations out there, but this is probably enough for one night.  😉  Enjoy these, and I’ll post more another day!


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