This day in TI space: from 1958 to today


When we say that our space products are out of this world, we mean it. Our heritage in space exploration is rich, dating as far back as 1958 with the launch of the U.S.’s first satellite, Explorer I, several months before our very own Jack Kilby invented the integrated circuit. Since, then, TI semiconductors have been instrumental in a number of major space applications, missions, explorations and discoveries.

From that first satellite to the first moon landing and first comet landing to exploring the planets, TI was there. This year, we are highlighting and updating this blog post with some of the significant space missions that included TI devices in the last 60-plus years, on the anniversaries of their respective launches.

June 10, 2003: Mars Rover
Mars Rover facts and figures:

  • Launched on June 10, 2003, Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars on January 3 and 24, 2004, respectively.
  • Both rovers went well beyond their planned 90-day missions.
  • Sprit lasted 20 times longer than its original design, and Opportunity worked for nearly 15 years until June 2018.
  • Both rovers were six-wheeled, solar-powered robots about 5 feet high, 7.5 feet wide and 5 feet long, weighing roughly 400 pounds.
  • The rovers worked together to discover evidence of past wet conditions as well as an ancient volcano.
  • The rovers received their names through a student essay competition won by a third-grade student from Arizona.

On June 10, 2003, Mars Exploration Rover Spirit launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 17. Less than a month later, Opportunity launched. The rovers landed on Mars just 21 days apart in January 2004 with a planned 90-day mission. While Spirit lasted 20 times longer than its original design, concluding its mission in 2010, Opportunity worked for nearly 15 years and traveled more than 28 miles until its last communication to Earth on June 10, 2018. The rovers worked together to discover evidence of past wet conditions on the Red Planet and that conditions could have potentially sustained life.

April 24, 1990: Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope facts and figures:

  • Hubble is 43.5 feet long — the length of a large school bus.
  • Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations.
  • Hubble has circled Earth and gone more than 4 billion miles along a circular low earth orbit currently about 340 miles in altitude and at 17,000 miles per hour.
  • Hubble has the pointing accuracy to shine a laser beam on President Roosevelt’s head on a dime about 200 miles away.

On April 24, 1990, Hubble Space Telescope launched from the space shuttle Discovery. It is the first major optical telescope to be placed into space and is considered to be the most significant advancement in astronomy since Galileo's telescope. With an unobstructed view of the universe, it captured its first image less than a month after launch on May 20, the star cluster NGC 3532. Traveling at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour, Hubble orbits Earth at a low earth orbit of 340 miles in altitude and makes one orbit roughly every 95 minutes. Hubble uses two 25-foot solar panels to draw energy from the sun, generating about 5,500 W of power, and it transmits about 150 GB of raw data each week.

March 2, 2004: Rosetta and Philae
Rosetta and Philae facts and figures:

  • First spacecraft to orbit a comet.
  • First spacecraft to perform a successful soft landing on a comet.
  • First spacecraft to obtain pictures from a comet’s surface
  • Traveled nearly 5 billion total miles in nearly 13 years.

On March 2, 2004, the space probe Rosetta, along with its accompanying lander module Philae, began its 10-year fact-finding mission to the comet “67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.” Built by the European Space Agency with support from NASA and TI parts, Rosetta passed Mars in 2007 before reaching the comet and becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a comet on Aug. 6, 2014. Three months later (Nov. 12), Philae performed the first successful soft landing on a comet and obtained the first images from a comet’s surface. Rosettas’ mission concluded in September 2016 with a controlled impact onto the comet after two years of operations at the comet.

Jan. 31, 1958: Explorer I
Explorer I facts and figures:

  • First satellite launched by the United States and the first satellite to carry science instruments.
  • Designed to measure the radiation environment in Earth’s orbit.
  • Orbited Earth more than 58,000 times, averaging one orbit every 114 minutes, or 12.5 orbits per day.
  • Built in less than three months as a response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik I in October 1957.

Sixty-one years ago, Explorer I was instrumental in the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt. Originally scheduled to launch Jan. 28, a jet-stream-related issue postponed it for three days. With an original expected lifetime of three years, Explorer I made its final transmission on May 23, 1958, but remained in orbit for more than 12 years, re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere on March 31, 1970.

Be sure to check back on July 10 when we highlight Telstar.

Upcoming anniversaries
July 10: Telstar
July 16: Apollo 11
July 27: Mariner 2
Aug. 5: Juno
Sept. 5: Voyager I and II
Oct. 1: NASA’s 61st birthday
Nov. 5: Mars orbiter mission
Nov. 20: International Space Station

Additional resources