Tag Archives: Space Probe

4 January 2004

Mars rover Spirit landing site. The lander is at the low center of the image. at upper left are the backshell and parachute. The lander's heat shield is at the upper right on the rim of the crater. This image was taken in December 2006. (NASA)
Mars rover Spirit landing site. The lander is at the low center of the image. At upper left are the backshell and parachute. The lander’s heat shield is at the upper right on the rim of the crater. This image was taken in December 2006. (NASA)

4 January 2004, 04:35 Ground UTC: The NASA Mars Exploration Rover A, named Spirit, landed on the surface of Mars within the large impact crater Gusev. The location of touch down and the starting point for the rover’s exploration of Mars is named Columbia Memorial Station.

Spirit captured this color image of the surface of Mars from its landing point at Columbia Memorial Station. The horizon is approximately 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) distant. (NASA)
Spirit captured this color image of the surface of Mars from its landing point at Columbia Memorial Station. The horizon is approximately 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) distant. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 January 1959

Replica of Luna 1 on display at the Kosmos Pavilion of the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy of the USSR. (RIA Novosti Archive)
Replica of Luna 1 on display at the Kosmos Pavilion of the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy of the USSR. (RIA Novosti Archive)

4 January 1959: At approximately 16:40 UTC, the Soviet automatic space probe First Cosmic Ship came within 5,995 kilometers (3,725 miles) of the Moon. It was the first man-made craft to arrive in the vicinity of Earth’s natural satellite.

First Cosmic Ship (which was later known as Мечта (Mechta, “Dream”) and today is called Luna 1) was launched from the Scientific-Research Test Range No. 5 at Tyuratam, Kazakhstan (later named the Baikonur Cosmodrome) at 16:41:21 UTC, 2 January 1959, aboard an 8K72 three-stage launch vehicle.

Mechta was the fourth in a series of lunar probes, and was intended to impact the surface of the Moon.  It was spherical with several antennas, and weighed 361 kilograms (795.9 pounds). The probe carried a magnetometer, Geiger counter, scintillation detector and micrometeorite detector. It was powered by batteries. Radio telemetry equipment relayed the data to Earth.

Luna I trajectory.

It was intended that the spacecraft would impact the lunar surface, but an error in programming the third stage burn time caused a near miss. After 34 hours of flight, the probe passed within 5,995 kilometers (3,725 miles) of the lunar surface.  It then entered a solar (heliocentric) orbit between Earth and Mars, where it remains today, circling the Sun every 450.0 days.

The Vostok-L 8K72 was a modified R-7 Semyorka intercontinental ballistic missile. The R-7 rocket was designed by Sergei Pavlovich Korolev, known as The Chief Designer.

The 8K72 version consisted of two core stages with four external boosters. The first stage and each of the boosters were powered by a four-nozzle RD-107 rocket engine burning kerosene and liquid oxygen. Total thrust was approximately 1,100,775 pounds. The second stage used a RD-0105 engine, producing 11,015 pounds of thrust. The Luna 1 was propelled by a third stage which remained attached during the translunar coast phase of flight.

The first two stages were 30.84 meters (101.18 feet) high and weighed 277,000 kilograms (610,680 pounds). The Luna 1 third stage weighed 1,472 kilograms (3,245 pounds), empty. It was 5.2 meters (17.06 feet) long with a diameter of 2.4 meters (7.87 feet).

The 8K72 rocket was capable of launching a 4,000 kilogram (8,818.5 pound) payload into Low Earth Orbit. The last launch of an 8K72 was in 1960, but the current Soyuz launchers are based on this early rocket.

Luna 1 was the first space vehicle to reach escape velocity and leave Earth’s gravitational field; the first to reach the vicinity of the Moon, and the first man-made device to orbit the Sun.

Luna 1 was launched from Tyuratam at 16:41:21 UTC, 2 January 1959.
Luna 1 was launched from Tyuratam at 16:41:21 UTC, 2 January 1959.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 November 1964, 14:22:01.309 UTC

Mariner 4 lifts off from LC-12, Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, 9:22 a.m. EST, 28 November 1964. (NASA)

28 November 1964, 14:22:01.309 UTC: Mariner 4, a space probe designed and built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), lifted off from Launch Complex 12 at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Kennedy, Florida. The two-stage launch vehicle consisted of an Atlas D, number 288, and an Agena D, number 6932.

The Mariner 4/Agena D separated from the first stage Atlas booster at 14:27:23 UTC. A 2 minute, 24 second burn placed the Mariner/Agena in an Earth orbit. At 15:02:53, a one minute, 35 second burn placed the vehicle into a Mars Transfer Orbit. Mariner 4 separated from the Agena D at 15:07:09 UTC. Mariner then went into cruise mode.

Mariner 4 (NASA)
Mariner 4 during Weight Test (NASA/JPL 293_7150Bc)

The mission of Mariner 4 was to “fly by” Mars to take photographic images and gather scientific data, then relay this to tracking stations on Earth. The spacecraft carried an imaging system, cosmic dust detector, cosmic-ray telescope, magnetometer, radiation detector, solar plasma probe and an occultation experiment.

Mariner 4 overall height, including the mast, was 289 centimeters. The body of the spacecraft had a width of 127 centimeters (4 feet, 2 inches) across the diagonal, and was 45.7 centimeters (1 foot, 6 inches high. 260.8 kilograms (118.3 pounds). Power was supplied by four solar panels, each 176 centimeters (5 feet, 9.3 inches) long and 90 centimeters (2 feet, 11.4 inches) wide. The panels had 28,224 individual solar cells capable of producing 310 watts at Mars.

The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3, number 228, was built by the Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as an orbital launch vehicle.

The LV-3 was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Atlas-Agena D orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms).

The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

The second stage was an Agena D, built by Lockheed Missiles and Space Systems, Sunnyvale, California. The Agena D was 20 feet, 6 inches (6.299 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 5 feet, 0 inches (1.524 meters). The single engine was a Bell Aerosystems Company LR81-BA-11, with 16,000 pounds of thrust (71.1 kilonewtons). It was also liquid fueled, but used a hypergolic mixture of nitric acid and UDMH. This engine was capable of being restarted in orbit.

Mariner 4 made its closest approach to Mars, 9,846 kilometers (6,118 miles) on 15 July 1965. The final contact with the probe occurred on 21 December 1967.

The first photographic image of Mars was captured by Mariner 4’s imaging system on 15 July 1965 and was transmitted to Earth the following day. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Digital image of the surface of Mars, 14 July 1965. (NASA)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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22 October 1975, 05:13 UTC

Image of the surface of Venus captured by the Venera 9 lander, 22 october 1975. (NASA)
Digitally enhanced image of the surface of Venus captured by the Venera 9 lander, 22 October 1975. (NASA)
Mosaic of images of the surface of Venus captured by the Venera 9 lander, 22 October 1975.
Mosaic of images of the surface of Venus captured by the Venera 9 lander, 22 October 1975. The rocks are estimated to be 30–40 centimeters across. (NASA)

22 October 1975, 05:13 UTC:  The lander from the Soviet space probe Venera 9 touched down on the surface of the planet Venus, at approximately 32° south latitude, 291° east longitude.

Venera 9 lander. (nasa)
Venera 9 lander. (NASA)

The images and other data was transmitted to an orbiting section of Venera 9 for relay to Earth. The lander sent signals for approximately 53 minutes before the orbiter traveled out of range.

Venera 9 orbiter. (NASA)
Venera 9 orbiter. (NASA)

Venera 9 had been launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Proton-K rocket, 8 June 1975. The space probe weighed 4,936 kilograms (10,882 pounds).

Once in orbit around Venus, the spacecraft separated into the orbiter and lander. As the lander descended to the surface, data was collected about the planet’s atmosphere. A 40-kilometer (25-mile) deep layer of clouds was studied. The cloud bases were about 35–40 kilometers (22–25 miles) above the surface. The clouds contained hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid, bromine and iodine.

At the planet’s surface the atmospheric pressure was 90 times that of Earth’s. The temperature was measured at 485 °C. (905 °F.).

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 October 1959

Luna 3 space probe.

7 October 1959: An E-2A space probe, Luna 3, was launched by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics at 00:43:39.7 UTC, 4 October 1959, from the Tyuratam Launch Complex (now known as the Baikonur Cosmodrome). The launch vehicle was a 3-stage 8K72 rocket, a variant of the R7 Semyorka two-stage intercontinental ballistic missile. Luna 3 was approximately cylindrical, 130 centimeters (4 feet, 3.2 inches) long, with a diameter of 120 centimeters (3 feet, 11.2 inches). It weighed 278.5 kilograms (614 pounds).

At 1416 UTC, 6 October, the probe made its closest approach as it passed over the lunar south pole at 6,200 kilometers (3,852 miles) and continued around the far side of The Moon in an highly eccentric orbit. For 40 minutes, between 0330 and 0410 UTC, 7 October, cameras aboard Luna 3 took a series of images of the surface. These photographs, taken at a distance of 63,500 to 66,700 kilometers (39,457 to 41,445 miles), were the first photos ever taken of The Moon’s far side. Exposed film from the cameras was processed on board, then transmitted to Earth as television signals.

The orbit of Luna 3 was highly eccentric with a 15 day period. It came as close as 40,638 kilometers and as far as 460,755 kilometers (25,251 miles to 286,300 miles) from The Moon. Contact was lost 22 October 1959. It is believed to have reentered the Earth’s atmosphere after April 1960.

Image of the far side of The Moon captured by Luna 3, 7 October 1959.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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