Tag Archives: Interplanetary Probe

18 September 1977

Earth and The Moon, photographed by Voyager 1, 18 September 1977. (NASA)

“This picture of the Earth and Moon in a single frame, the first of its kind ever taken by a spacecraft, was recorded September 18, 1977, by NASA’s Voyager 1 when it was 7.25 million miles (11.66 million kilometers) from Earth. The moon is at the top of the picture and beyond the Earth as viewed by Voyager. In the picture are eastern Asia, the western Pacific Ocean and part of the Arctic. Voyager 1 was directly above Mt. Everest (on the night side of the planet at 25 degrees north latitude) when the picture was taken. The photo was made from three images taken through color filters, then processed by the Image Processing Lab at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Because the Earth is many times brighter than the Moon, the Moon was artificially brightened by a factor of three relative to the Earth by computer enhancement so that both bodies would show clearly in the prints. Voyager 1 was launched September 5, 1977 and Voyager 2 on August 20, 1977. JPL is responsible for the Voyager mission.” —NASA Greatest Images Archive

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27 August 1962, 06:53:14 UTC, T minus Zero

Engine ignition of Mariner 2 Atlas Agena B at LC-12, Cape Canaveral AFS, 2:53 a.m., EST, 27 August 1962. (NASA)

27 August 1962: At 06:53:14 UTC (2:53 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time), Mariner 2 lifted off from Launch Complex 12 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, aboard an Atlas-Agena B launch vehicle. This was the second space probe to be sent to Venus.

Mariner 1 and 2 were identical space probes built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, California. The spacecraft were designed to obtain radiometric temperatures of Venus, and to measure the Interplanetary Magnetic Field.

The Mariner 1 mission failed when the launch vehicle veered off course and was destroyed by the Range Safety Officer, 4 minutes, 53 seconds into its flight, 22 July 1962.

Mariner 2 under final inspection. (NASA)

The Atlas Agena B combined an Atlas LV-3A rocket with an Agena B upper stage. The Atlas was derived from the U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and was built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California.

The height of the total vehicle, including the protective shroud encasing Mariner, 103 feet, 5 inches (31.70 meters). The Atlas Agena B first stage was 20.70 meters (67 feet, 11 inches) long, with a maximum diameter of 3.05 meters (10 feet). The maximum width across the booster section was 4.88 meters (16 feet).

The LV-3A is a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled rocket with three engines. The “half-stage,” was a booster section consisting of two LR89-NA-5 rocket engines. This stage produced approximately 369,800 pounds of thrust (1,645 kilonewtons). The center, or “sustainer,” engine is a LR105-NA-5, rated at 86,800 pounds of thrust (386 kilonewtons). Both engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. The Atlas rocket used liquid oxygen and RP-1 (a highly-refined kerosene) propellant. The LV-3A had a total thrust of 456,587 pounds (2,031 kilonewtons).

The second stage was an Agena B, built by Lockheed Missiles and Space Systems, Sunnyvale, California. This engine was capable of being restarted in orbit. The Agena B was 7.20 meters (23 feet, 7 inches) long and had a maximum diameter of 1.50 meters (4 feet, 11 inches). It was also liquid fueled, but used a hypergolic mixture of nitric acid and UDMH. The single engine was a Bell Aerosystems Company LR81-BA-7, with 16,000 pounds of thrust (71.1 kilonewtons).

The Mariner probe was mounted atop the Agena second stage, enclosed in a protective shroud. Mariner had a gross weight of 447 pounds (202.8 kilograms). The probe was 9 feet, 11 inches long (3.02 meters) long, folded for launch, and 5 feet (1.52 meters) wide. When antennas and the solar panels were fully expanded, the spacecraft was 11 feet, 11 inches (3.63 meters) long and had a span of 16 feet, 6 inches (5.03 meters).

Artist's conception of Mariner 2 in interplanetary space. (NASA)
Artist’s conception of Mariner 2 in interplanetary space. (NASA)

At liftoff, all three main engines were burning. After 2minutes, the two-engine booster assembly was jettisoned and the vehicle continued with the center LR105 sustainer. After 4 minutes, 25 seconds, this engine shut down and the Agena second stage separated. At this point, guidance was lost and the vehicle began to roll, but did not deviate significantly from the planned trajectory. About a minute later, guidance was restored and the mission continued.

The Agena B second stage placed the Mariner in a parking orbit at about 118 kilometers (73.3 miles) altitude. 16 minutes, 20 seconds later, the Agena engine was reignited and  Mariner 2 was then placed on a trajectory planned to take it to Venus.

After 3 months, 17 days, at 19:59:28 UTC, 14 December 1962, the probe passed within 34,773 kilometers (21,607 miles) of Venus and measured the planet’s surface and cloud temperatures. It continued inward across the solar system and came within 105,464,560 kilometers (65,432,640 miles) of the sun.

The last transmission was received at 07:00 UTC, 3 January 1963, 129 days into the mission. Mariner 2 remains in orbit around the sun, circling every 292 days.

Mariner 2, carried alloft by Atlas LV3 179D, accelerates past the gantry, 06:53 UTC, 26 August 1962 (NASA)
The Atlas Agena B, carrying Mariner 2, accelerates toward orbit, 06:53 UTC, 27 August 1962 (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 January 2003

Artist's conception of Pioneer 10 in the outer solar system. (NASA)
Artist’s conception of Pioneer 10 in the outer solar system. (NASA)

23 January 2003: The final, very weak signal from Pioneer 10 was received on January 23, 2003 when it was 12 billion kilometers (80 Astronomical Units) from Earth.

The space probe was launched from Earth at 01:49:00 UTC, 2 March 1972, aboard an Atlas Centaur rocket.

On September 9, 2012, Pioneer 10 was 106.696 AU (1.59615×1010 km; 9.918×109 mi) from the Earth and 106.676 AU (1.59585×1010 km; 9.9162×109 mi) from the Sun; and traveling at 12.037 km/s (26,930 mph) (relative to the Sun) and traveling outward at about 2.539 AU per year. Sunlight takes 14.79 hours to get to Pioneer 10. The brightness of the Sun from the spacecraft is magnitude -16.6. Pioneer 10 is heading in the direction of the constellation Taurus.

If left undisturbed, Pioneer 10 and its sister craft Pioneer 11 will join the Voyager spacecraft in leaving the solar system to wander the interstellar medium. The trajectory into the interstellar medium is expected to take it in the general direction of the star Aldebaran, currently located at a distance of about 68 light years. If Aldebaran had zero relative velocity, it would require more than 2 million years for the spacecraft to reach the star. — Wikipedia

Pioneer 10 is launched aboard an Atlas Centaur rocket at Space Launch Complex 36A, 01:49:00 UTC, 2 March 1972. (NASA)
Pioneer 10 is launched aboard an Atlas Centaur rocket at Space Launch Complex 36A, 01:49:00 UTC, 2 March 1972. (NASA)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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