Worlds of David Darling
Encyclopedia of Science
   
Home > Encyclopedia of Science

Pioneer 8





Pioneer 6-9
Pioneer 6, 7, 8, and 9
The third of four identical solar orbiting, spin-stabilized spacecraft – Pioneer 6, 7, 8, and 9 – in the Pioneer series of deep space probes. Pioneer 8 was launched on Dec. 13, 1967 and was still functioning, along with one of its science experiments, when last contacted on Aug. 22, 1996. On that date it was commanded to switch to its backup transmitter and a downlink signal was re-acquired.

Pioneer 8's main body is an aluminum cylinder 94 cm (37 in.) in diameter and 89 cm (35 in.) long. There are three magnetometer booms, each 208 cm (82 in.) long. The antenna mast (pointing down in the picture) is 132 cm (52 in.) long. The mass is approximately 63 kg (138 pounds). 79W of power was generated from the solar panels. The spacecraft is spin-stabilized at approximately 60 rpm, with the spin axis perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic.

Pioneers 6-9 demonstrated the practicality of spinning a spacecraft to stabilize it and to simplify control of its orientation. Measurements made by these probes greatly increased our knowledge of the interplanetary environment and the effects of solar activity on Earth. New information was gathered about the solar wind, solar cosmic rays, the structure of the Sun's plasma and magnetic fields, the physics of particles in space, and the nature of storms on the Sun which produce solar flares. This series of spacecraft also discovered the Earth's magnetotail (magnetic field tail away from the Sun). Simultaneous measurements by Pioneer 6 and 8 when they were 161 million km apart allowed the most accurate determination of the solar wind density to be made up to that point.


launch date Dec. 13, 1967
launch vehicle Delta E1
launch site Cape Canaveral
orbit solar; periapsis 0.992 AU; apoapsis 1.088 AU; period 387.5 d; inclination 0.057° eccentricity 0.046
other designations Pioneer-C


Related category

   • SATELLITES AND SPACE PROBES

Source: NASA