Glossary term: Spacecraft

Description: A spacecraft is a vehicle built to travel in outer space. Propulsion is usually via some kind of rocket engine, emitting gas or plasma in one direction in order to accelerate in the opposite direction. Spacecraft that do not carry humans are called uncrewed or robotic spacecraft; examples are various kinds of satellites, space telescopes, or space probes that are used for exploration. Crewed spacecraft, on the other hand, need to provide for the survival of their human occupants, with, for example, a pressurized atmosphere, radiation protection, and a regulated temperature. Spacecraft that can return to Earth are called recoverable; those that can be launched again after recovery, reusable. A spacecraft designed to provide a longer-term home base, e.g. in Earth orbit, is called a space station.

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Term and definition status: This term and its definition have been approved by a research astronomer and a teacher

The OAE Multilingual Glossary is a project of the IAU Office of Astronomy for Education (OAE) in collaboration with the IAU Office of Astronomy Outreach (OAO). The terms and definitions were chosen, written and reviewed by a collective effort from the OAE, the OAE Centers and Nodes, the OAE National Astronomy Education Coordinators (NAECs) and other volunteers. You can find a full list of credits here. All glossary terms and their definitions are released under a Creative Commons CC BY-4.0 license and should be credited to "IAU OAE".

Related Media

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft approaches the ISS for docking

SpaceX crew dragon spacecraft

Caption: The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is the first Commercial Crew vehicle to visit the International Space Station (ISS). It is pictured with its nose cone open revealing its docking mechanism while approaching the station's Harmony module.
Credit: NASA

License: PD Public Domain icons