Tag Archives: Space Probe

14 July 1965

Mariner 4 (JPL/NASA)

14 July 1965: At 0:00:57 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (01:00:57 UTC), 7 months, 14 days after its launch from the Kennedy Space Center, the space probe Mariner 4 made its closest approach to Mars. It came within 6,118 miles (9,846 kilometers) of the surface and took 21 full digital images and a portion of a 22nd. These images were stored on magnetic tape and later transmitted to Earth. 5.6 million bits of data were received.

Mariner 4 was a 260.68 kilogram (574.70 pounds) interplanetary spacecraft, controlled by radio signals from Earth. It was launched 28 November 1964 from Launch Complex 12 at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. The launch vehicle was a three-stage liquid-fueled Atlas D/Agena rocket.

Mariner 4 continued to perform experiments and send signals back to Earth until 21 December 1967. At that time, it was 192,100,000 miles (309,154,982.4 kilometers) from home. Today, it remains in orbit around the sun.

Mariner 4 digital image of Mars surface, 14 July 1965. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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17 February 1996, 20:43:27 UTC

NEAR/Delta II lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 17 at 3:30 a.m., EST, 17 February 1996. (NASA)
NEAR/Delta II D232 lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 17 at 3:43 a.m., EST, 17 February 1996. (NASA)

17 February 1996, 20:43:27 UTC: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory space probe NEAR—Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous—was launched aboard a three-stage McDonnell Douglas Delta II rocket from Launch Complex 17 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The purpose of the 5-year-long mission was to study several near-Earth asteroids, including 253 Mathilde and 433 Eros.

The space probe was renamed NEAR Shoemaker in honor of Eugene Merle (“Gene”) Shoemaker, Ph.D., a well-known planetary scientist who dies in a vehicle collision in Australia, 18 July 1997.

Near-Earth Asteroid 253 Mathilde photographed from a distance of 1,200 kilometers, 27 June 1997. (NASA)

NEAR Shoemaker made its closest approach to 253 Mathilde on 27 June 1997, passing the asteroid at a distance of approximately 1,200 kilometers (746 miles) at 35,748 kilometers per hour (22,213 miles per hour). More than 500 photographic images, along with sensor data, were transmitted to Earth. The space probe’s main engine was then ignited to send it on a new trajectory to 433 Eros.

NEAR Shoemaker was placed into an orbit around 433 Eros on 14 February 2000. NEAR Shoemaker photographed and studied the asteroid for nearly a year, and then on 12 February 2001, after completing 230 orbits, made a soft landing on its surface.

Near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros photographed by the NEAR-Shoemaker space probe. (NASA)

The McDonnell Douglas Delta II 7925-8 Orbital Launch Vehicle is a three-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. It is 125 feet, 4 inches (38.201 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs approximately 480,000 pounds (217,724 kilograms). At the time, the Delta II was the smallest rocket used to launch a planetary mission.

The first stage is a Thor/Delta XLT-C (“long-tank Thor”), which is 85 feet, 5½ inches (26.048 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs 224,600 pounds (101,877 kilograms) when fully fueled. The stage is powered by one liquid-fueled Rocketdyne RS-27A rocket engine, rated at 236,992 pounds of thrust (1,054.193 kilonewtons). Fueled with 10,000 gallons (37,854 liters) of RP-1/LOX propellant and oxidizer, the engine has 4 minutes, 25 second burn time.

Surrounding the Thor are nine Alliant Techsytems (ATK) GEM-40 (Graphite-Epoxy Motor) solid fuel boosters. They are 42 feet, 6 inches (12.957 meters) long, and 3 feet, 4 inches (1.018 meters) in diameter, and weigh 28,671 pounds ( kilograms). Each booster produces 110,800 pounds of thrust (492.863 kilonewtons), and have 1 minute, 4 second burn time. Six of the nine GEM-40s are ignited at launch, and the remaining three ignite after the first six burn out.

The second stage is a McDonnell Douglas Delta K, which is 19 feet, 3 inches (5.867 meters) long, 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters) in diameter, and weighs 15,331 pounds ( kilograms). The Delta K is powered by one Aerojet AJ10-118K liquid-fueled rocket engine which produces 9,800 pounds of thrust (43.593 kilonewtons). It has a 7 minute, 11 second burn time.

The third stage is a McDonnell Douglas PAM-D (Payload Assist Module), powered by a Thiokol Propulsion Star 48B solid rocket motor, which produces 15,000 pounds of thrust (66.723 kilonewtons), and has a burn time of 1 minute, 27 second burn time.

NEAR space probe inside a protective cover. A man at the lower left of the image provides scale. (NASA)
NEAR space probe inside a protective payload fairing. A man at the lower left of the image provides scale. (NASA)

The NEAR space probe was designed and built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The probe was equipped with an X-ray/gamma ray spectrometer, near-infrared imaging spectrometer and a multi-spectral CCD imaging camera, laser rangefinder and magnetometer. NEAR was 9 feet, ¼-inch (2.749 meters) long and weighed 1,803 pounds (817.8 kilograms). Power was supplied by four solar panels, capable of generating 400 watts.The main engine produced 450 Newtons (101 pounds) of thrust using hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. A system of 11 hydrazine thrusters and 4 reaction wheels  were used attitude control.

© 2019, 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 January 1, 2016, Pioneer 10 was predicted to be 114.07 au from the Earth (about 10 billion miles); and traveling at 12.04 km/s (26,900 mph) (relative to the Sun) and traveling outward at about 2.54 au per year. Voyager 2 is projected to pass Pioneer 10 by April 2019. Sunlight takes 14.79 hours to reach 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 two Voyager spacecraft and the New Horizons spacecraft in leaving the Solar System to wander the interstellar medium. The Pioneer 10 trajectory 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 two million years for the spacecraft to reach it. — 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)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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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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