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Short Course: Historical Highlights of Planetary Probe Missions

Short Course for the International Planetary Probe Workshop 2024

June 8th and 9th

Short Course Description

It is almost 60 years since the first successful landings on other planetary bodies (Luna 9) and almost 50 since images came back from other worlds (Venera 9, Viking). The short course has a compilations of a series of presentations featuring scholars of these endeavors, and including some of the protagonists themselves to share their direct experience of international planetary mission developments, to highlight the challenges and triumphs, and to offer lessons learned for future efforts. In addition to the successful projects, the course will also touch on planetary missions that were lost, and review the counterfactual history of how planetary exploration might have been very different had they succeeded.

In the spirit of IPPW itself, the topics cover scientific, engineering and programmatic aspects.


Topics covered will include:

  • Key planetary entry probe demonstrators (e.g. PAET)

  • First close-up investigation of Mars and preparation for Viking

  • Into the hellish depths of Venus with the Venera probes

  • Galileo and Pioneer Venus probes

  • Radio science highlights

  • Parachute development

  • Thermal Protection Systems

  • Huygens

  • Beagle 2

  • Small bodies landers

  • Information sources on historical probe missions

  • Trivia quiz!


Short Course Organizers

Ralph Lorenz (

Andrew Ball (


The short course conveners are authors of Planetary Landers and Entry Probes by Cambridge University Press, a compendium of projects germane to IPPW and the Short Course for 2024.

Short Course Schedule

Short Course Abstracts

Arnold - Planetary Atmospheric Entry Test  (PAET)

This presentation summarizes the instrumentation and analysis of flight data from the PAET which proved that results from an entry probe mission can be used to determine the structure and composition of an unknown planetary atmosphere. Focus is on the atmospheric structure and radiometry experiments.

Ball - Beyond the Internet - Information Sources on Planetary Missions

From learning about the field as a student to researching topics in a professional capacity, the targeting, discovery and harvesting of information on planetary missions has evolved greatly since the days of standing over the photocopier with bound volumes of journals. Andrew presents some personal favorites and tips from the libraries and obscure corners of the internet.

Gage - Heritage in Planetary Missions,  A Double-edged Sword

Previous missions can provide invaluable guidance for design and implementation of new missions. Failures and near misses can be particularly useful for defining capability boundaries and problematic operating environments. Nevertheless, caution must be exercised to avoid misapplication of prior experience to new circumstances. Examples that demonstrate benefits and pitfalls of heritage will be provided.

Cutts - From Mariner 9 Orbiter to Viking Lander: A Bridge too Far?

In 1976, a Viking Orbiter spacecraft delivered a lander spacecraft into Venus orbit with a plan to land on July 4th celebrating the 200th anniversary of the United States. The orbiter was equipped with a camera barely able to resolve an object the size of a football stadium but the lander was vulnerable to landing on a rock no bigger than a football.  This presentation describes how this all worked out.


Lorenz/Ball - First into the hellish depths: the Venera/VeGa Landers

The Soviet Venera probe program included an evolving series of probes/landers that from the 1960s to the 1980s penetrated progressively deeper into the Venus atmosphere, then returned the first pictures from the surface of another planet (almost 50 years ago!), and even drilled into and analyzed surface rocks. A successor pair of missions, VeGa, featured balloons as well as landers. We review these striking achievements.


Bienstock -  Pioneer Venus and Galileo Probes :  Launching NASA’s Planetary Probe Missions in the 20th Century

A time travel back to the exciting era of designing vehicles to probe the mysteries of Venus and Jupiter.


Asmar - Radio Highlights

An overview of past, current, and future applications of radio signals for communications and scientific applications on planetary probes.

O'Farrell/Siegler - Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems: Advances in the Last Two Decades

A review of parachute and related technology development and flight highlights.


Venkatapathy/Gasch - History of Ablative TPS used in NASA Missions

Planetary exploration began with the invention of the blunt body concept along with the use of ablative TPS. These led to the success of Apollo mission and scientific community taking advantage of the success soon followed exploration of inner and outer planets in the (1970 – 1980).  Sample return missions and further exploration of Mars with much larger landers in the (2000 – 2020) all needed ablative TPS.  This talk will highlight the TPS used in NASA missions since 1950’s. 

Pichon - Historical highlights of European Thermal Protection System Development

Presentation of the major achievements obtained on thermal protection systems designed and produced in Europe for various applications and re-entry vehicles

Yamada - Japanese Sample Return Missions from Asteroids: "Hayabusa and Hayabusa2"

Presentation of the results and achievements in "Hayabusa" and "Hayabusa2" sample return missions, especially, development of sample return capsule and recovery operations.

Chester - Beagle 2 20 Years Later: What It Was, Was Supposed To Do, and What It Did


Witte - Small Bodies Landers

The journeys of the micro-lander »Philae« (onboard ESA Rosetta) to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and »MASCOT« (onboard JAXA Hayabusa 2) to asteroid 1999JU3/Ryugu.


Lorenz - Huygens

The Huygens probe to Titan was the European Space Agency’s first probe mission, confronting the agency, industry, and university partners with unfamiliar challenges.  The NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini-Huygens mission was an outstanding example of international collaboration. The talk reviews some highlights of Huygens technical development, its operation and its findings, which set the stage for future exploration.


Lorenz/Chester/Ball - Beyond the Agencies:  Commercial and other paradigms

Although national and international space agencies have led the formidable enterprise of planetary exploration, commercial and other entities have occasionally entered the arena and may do so much more in future.  Relevant previous projects include the (radio) Amateur Satellite organization AMSAT, the grass-roots effort to develop the mission that became Lunar Prospector, and the unconventional funding model of Beagle 2: recent projects have included several commercial lunar landing efforts, and a Rocket Labs Venus probe mission. Interestingly, these paradigms may resemble the sponsorship of large astronomical observatories in the 19th century by private individuals.

Short Course Speaker Biographies

Ralph Lorenz is a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, specializing in the interaction of vehicles and instruments with planetary surfaces and atmospheres, and leads meteorological investigations under development for Dragonfly and DAVINCI. He has participated in missions including Cassini/Huygens, InSight, Akatsuki and Perseverance, and has authored ten books including   "Titan Unveiled", "Spinning Flight", "Space Systems Failures", and most recently "Planetary Exploration with Ingenuity and Dragonfly”.


Andrew Ball is since 2008 a Systems Engineer at ESA ESTEC in the Netherlands. Having studied in the UK and worked previously on payloads and EDL measurements for Rosetta, Huygens, ExoMars Schiaparelli and the Rosalind Franklin rover, Andrew is now engaged in definition of future Mars exploration missions. He has participated in all but two IPPWs since 2003. He is lead author of the book ‘Planetary Landers and Entry Probes’.


Dr. Kazuhiko Yamada is an associate professor at the Department of Space Flight Systems, Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. His major is the aerodynamics and his research topics are various re-entry technology, from conventional sample return capsules to innovative inflatable decelerators.


Peter Gage runs Neerim Corporation, which provides systems engineering services to government and industry. Peter has participated in NASA development of thermal protection systems and design of entry vehicles for almost 3 decades.

Dr. Jim Arnold’s affiliation with NASA spans six decades (40 in the civil service including 17 as chief of Ames' Space Technology Division) - his interests include TPS, CFD, Computational Chemistry, test facilities (arc jets, shock tubes and ballistic ranges), nanotechnology, solar system exploration and Planetary Defense against asteroid impacts. He has received many awards: AIAA Fellow, IPPW Sieff Award, NASA's medals for Outstanding Leadership, Exceptional Scientific Achievement, Distinguished Service (NASA's highest), presidential Senior Executive Awards at the Meritorious and Distinguished levels and those for his investigation board services including two 1999 Mars mission failures and the causes of the Shuttle Columbia accident.


Jim Cutts (JPL) has spent more than five decades working in planetary exploration. Dr. Cutts participated in the exploration of Mars, the Outer Planets Jupiter and Saturn and now Venus. He has been involved in the science, the enabling technologies and the conception of new mission ideas


Bernie Bienstock (JPL) began his career in the early 1970’s, designing missiles. After listening to a senior engineer discussing the “kill radius” of a particular missile, Bernie knew he didn’t want to spend his career producing war munitions. Following several of his engineering buddies to greener (and hotter) pastures, Bernie hired on at Hughes Aircraft to join the Pioneer Venus program. It was an exciting time for a young engineer to be on a team designing a series of spacecraft and probes to explore Earth’s nearest neighbor.


Clara O’Farrell is the supervisor of the EDL Guidance and Control systems group at JPL. Since joining JPL in 2013, she has worked on the LDSD, ASPIRE, Mars 2020, and SRL projects. She has a 4-2 record against supersonic parachutes.

Katie Siegel is the Cognizant Engineer for the Sample Retrieval Lander Parachute and Mortar system. Since joining JPL in 2017, she has also worked on Mars 2020 and Europa Lander Concept Mission.


Sami Asmar is currently the manager of the commitments office at NASA/JPL’s Interplanetary Network Directorate, Secretary-General and Chair of the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), and a Radio Science co-investigator on many NASA and ESA planetary missions. He authored the book Radio Science Techniques for Deep Space Exploration (Wiley & Sons 2022).


Dr. Matthew Gasch received his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of California, Davis, Davis CA in 2003. Dr. Gasch’s professional career as a Research Scientist / Project Manager spans 20 years at NASA Ames Research Center where he is an internationally recognized expert in entry systems and thermal protection materials.


Dr. Ethiraj (Raj) Venkatapathy received his Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa in 1981.  Dr. Venkatapathy is currently NASA’s Senior Technologist for Entry System and the Chief Technologist for the Entry Systems and Technologies Division at NASA Ames. 


Thierry Pichon is Director for Launcher Equipment Programs in ArianeGroup, with a 30 year experience on the design, project management and program management of CMCs and ablative materials/components


Dr. Lars Witte is a senior researcher at German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) Institute of Space Systems and head of the Landing & Exploration Technology department. He was involved in several DLR planetary missions and instrument contributions, including the micro-landers Philae and MASCOT.


Dr. Ed Chester received his PhD in signal processing and computer arithmetic from Newcastle University in 2002. He was flight operations engineer for the Beagle-2 mission, then joined ESA where he contributed to the Mars Express, Herschel, Planck and Gaia missions. While subsequently working Spain, he organised and hosted IPPW in 2010 in Barcelona. Between 2019 and 2023 he was senior systems engineer at Goonhilly Earth Station, upgrading a large ground station facility to form the world's first commercial deep space facility, now integrated with ESA's ESTRACK network and also supporting NASA, ISRO and commercial missions throughout the inner solar system.

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