After reading Why did the Ulysses probe reach Jupiter much faster than Galileo? and answers to How many Space Shuttle payloads ended up beyond Earth orbit? and also What's the largest rocket that was carried to space inside a Space Shuttle? I thought of the ISS.

Considering how low mass but high ISP propulsion for smallsats has continued to develop, I realized that the ISS could really be a "launch platform" for spacecraft that will leave Earth orbit. (almost an example)

Question: How many spacecraft deployed from the ISS have escaped Earth orbit? Are there plans for any in the near future?

I chose "beyond Earth orbit" rather than "deep space" so as not to exclude anything that ended up cis-lunar.

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    $\begingroup$ What makes you think any have? To my knowledge they only launch cubesats. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 8:48
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    $\begingroup$ Anything launched to the ISS was first launched from Earth, at great cost in dV. Given that, why would the spacecraft leaving Earth stop at the ISS first, instead of just going direct? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ @WayneConrad While that sounds clever, it's not. A smallsat or even a 6U cubesat may be substantially cheaper as cargo in the next delivery to the ISS than to put on a rocket and launch separately. There have been lots of cubesats deployed that way from the ISS already, and a few larger ones as well. The only difference between what's already done routinely and what I've talked about here is a small solar-electric propulsion system. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh That's a very good point that I hadn't considered. I wasn't trying to be clever, but I freely admit that I did come off like I was. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 1:33
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    $\begingroup$ Looking back in time, there was an alternate plan for the Apollo missions that had a transfer vehicle and lander being assembled in Earth orbit, possibly with a space station in support. This was called the Earth Orbit Rendezvous mode, as opposed to the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous mode with separate lander and command modules. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 17:19

1 Answer 1


To Answer your question:

How many spacecraft deployed from the ISS have escaped Earth orbit?


Are there plans for any in the near future?


A short proof:

Public Sat-Catalog here

You can search by "International Designator = 1998-067" and filter "On-Orbit" you will get every known object released (intentionally or not) by the ISS an the ISS itself.

61 Results (14.01.2020 about 12:00 UTC): 1 object lost, 60 with orbit data orbiting earth.

A short explaination:

Releasing objects (Nanosats) from the ISS you will ALWAYS kick them out in the rear direction. This way they become slower than the ISS, lowering the semi mayor axis thus reducing collision risk in the future. So every object "launched" from the ISS has basically one direction: back to earth.

No one would allow anybody risking the ISS by starting a Cubesat that is designe to cross the ISSs path.

If you want to launch a Cubesat/Nanosat (N-units large) getting out of LEO you would end up cheaper and on an "better" orbit by simply buying a spot on a rocket full of other Cubesats or as a secondary payload with an other launch.

  • $\begingroup$ hmm... wouldn't selecting on-orbit simply exclude anything that's not in orbit? And isn't that exactly what I've asked about? I don't think searching a satellite catalog for objects that are not satellites is a valid proof. On the retrograde aspect, these are related: Are the cubesats deployed from the ISS always directed “nadir and retrograde”? and Was this large pieces of “space junk” just released from the ISS in the “nadir and retrograde” direction? But it's hard to prove an "always". $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ "I don't think searching a satellite catalog for objects that are not satellites is a valid proof.": Actually this catalog contains everything tracked by NORAD (that has not been classified). This Catalog also contains Objects leaving earths orbit (e.g. Search for "NORAD ID: 10321" or "Int'l Code: 1977-084A"). Assuming no classified object was released from the ISS. The "on-orbit"-Filter is there to filter out every object, that already reenterd earths atmosphere. (So Voyager1 for example is not filterd out be the "on-orbit"-filter) $\endgroup$
    – CallMeTom
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 9:30
  • $\begingroup$ Well look at that; there's all kinds of deep-space things in there! Okay I'm convinced, thanks for the reply. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 10:40

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