Have there been individual satellites that have been deployed into Earth orbit (or beyond) and recovered safely back to Earth's surface more than twice?

Deployed means it's not a launch vehicle itself, and has no substantial propulsive capability beyond attitude control and minor adjustments.

Recovered also rules out anything that can re-enter the atmosphere by itself, so no space planes or shuttles.

Satellite means that it should pass the "Does it look like a satellite and quack like a satellite?" test. It has a battery and/or solar panels, at least a small computer, and can actively control its own attitude (ADCS), and does something useful.

  • $\begingroup$ By satellite do you mean anything that orbit the earth; or do you just restrict it to what people mean when they talk about satellites? In the first case, it's probably going to be the human that went the most often, in the later one, it's 0, maybe 1. $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    Sep 9, 2017 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ Do your ground rules exclude the MPLMs? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multi-Purpose_Logistics_Module If not, it's probably Leonardo. $\endgroup$ Sep 9, 2017 at 12:54
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble I've made an edit. It should quack like a satellite. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 9, 2017 at 13:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble I've reworded the question. I had no idea there was more than one! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 9, 2017 at 13:50

1 Answer 1


There have been a few. One notable one was ASTRO-SPAS. This satellite was deployed from a space shuttle, flew independently making astronomical observations, and was retrieved on four separate missions.

For two missions it carried the primary instrument ORFEUS (Orbiting & Retrievable Far & Extreme UV Spectrometer), on STS-51 and STS-80.

For the other two missions the primary instrument was CRISTA (Cryogenic Infrared Spectrometers & Telescopes for the Atmosphere), on STS-66 and STS-85.

Here is a picture of the ASTRO-SPAS being deployed on STS-66.

enter image description here

Here it is flying free

enter image description here

Link to a video of the SPAS being grappled on STS-85.


The ASTRO-SPAS is now displayed in the Deutsches Museum in Munich.

Other shuttle-deployed examples include the Wakeshield (two free flights, a third attempt remained grappled due to a failure)

enter image description here

and, as pointed out by uhoh, probably the all time champion, SPARTAN-201 with five free flights.

enter image description here

Because these satellites flew so often, they were used as generic payloads in the Space Shuttle Remote Manipulator (i.e. robot arm) simulator training flows. For the sake of nostalgia, here's a cheat sheet I made when I was learning to grapple free-flying SPASes and SPARTANs.

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ just fyi the YouTube link doesn't seem to work. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 3, 2019 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh thanks. Wish I had downloaded it! Can't find it any more. $\endgroup$ Jul 4, 2019 at 0:02

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