• Post category:Space Probes
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In our previous newsletter, we got a glimpse of the Hubble Telescope, its need, and working. Today we will discuss Pioneer 10!

Pioneer 10

Quick Wiki Intro: Pioneer 10 (originally designated Pioneer F) is an American space probe, launched in 1972 and weighing 258 kilograms (569 pounds), that completed the first mission to the planet Jupiter. Thereafter, Pioneer 10 became the first of five artificial objects to achieve the escape velocity that will allow them to leave the Solar System.

An artist's impression of a Pioneer spacecraft on its way to interstellar space
An artist’s impression of a Pioneer spacecraft on its way to interstellar space

Lots of Firsts:

  •     First spacecraft placed on a trajectory to escape the solar system into interstellar space
  •     First spacecraft to fly beyond Mars
  •     First spacecraft to fly through the main asteroid belt
  •     First spacecraft to fly past Jupiter
  •     Crossed the orbit of Neptune to become the first human-made object to go beyond Neptune
  •     First spacecraft to use all-nuclear electrical power
Pioneer 10 interplanetary trajectory
Pioneer 10 interplanetary trajectory

Launch Profile & Trajectory

Pioneer 10 was launched on March 3, 1972, at 01:49:00 UTC (March 2 local time) by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration from Space Launch Complex 36A in Florida, aboard an Atlas-Centaur launch vehicle. The third stage consisted of a solid fuel TE364-4 developed specifically for the Pioneer missions. This stage provided about 15,000 pounds of thrust and spun up the spacecraft. The spacecraft had an initial spin rate of 30 rpm. Twenty minutes following the launch, the vehicle’s three booms were extended, which slowed the rotation rate to 4.8 rpm. This rate was maintained throughout the voyage. The launch vehicle accelerated the probe for a net interval of 17 minutes, reaching a velocity of 51,682 km/h (32,114 mph).

After the high-gain antenna was contacted, several of the instruments were activated for testing while the spacecraft was moving through the Earth’s radiation belts. Ninety minutes after launch, the spacecraft reached interplanetary space. Pioneer 10 passed by the Moon in 11 hours and became the fastest human-made object at that time. Two days after launch, the scientific instruments were turned on, beginning with the cosmic ray telescope. After ten days, all of the instruments were active.

Current Status and Future

On January 3, 2019, Pioneer 10 was predicted to be 122.594 AU (1.5×1010 km; 9.3×109 mi) from the Earth (about 11.4 billion miles); traveling at 11.947 km/s (26,720 mph) (relative to the Sun) and traveling outward at about 2.52 AU per year. Voyager 2 is expected to pass Pioneer 10 around April 2023. Sunlight takes 14.79 hours to reach Pioneer 10. The brightness of the Sun from the spacecraft is magnitude −16.3. Pioneer 10 is currently in the direction of the constellation Taurus.

In the next article, we will be talking about the Pioneer 11.

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