Encyclopedia Astronautica
1972.03.03 - Pioneer 10


Jupiter flyby December 1973; first man-made object to leave solar system. The spacecraft achieved its closest approach to Jupiter on December 3, 1973, when it reached approximately 2.8 Jovian radii (about 200,000 km). As of Jan. 1, 1997 Pioneer 10 was at about 67 AU from the Sun near the ecliptic plane and heading outward from the Sun at 2.6 AU/year and downstream through the heliomagnetosphere towards the tail region and interstellar space.

This solar system escape direction is unique because the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft (and the now terminated Pioneer 11 spacecraft mission) are heading in the opposite direction towards the nose of the heliosphere in the upstream direction relative to the inflowing interstellar gas. The spacecraft is heading generally towards the red star Aldebaran, which forms the eye of Taurus (The Bull). The journey over a distance of 68 light years to Aldebaran will require about two millions years to complete. Routine tracking and project data processing operations were terminated on March 31, 1997 for budget reasons. Occasional tracking continues under support of the Lunar Prospector project at NASA Ames Research Center with retrieval of energetic particle and radio science data; this is expected to continue at least through mid-1998. Space experiments mostly continued to operate for planetary or interplanetary measurements until failure or until insufficient spacecraft power from the RTG's was available for operation of all instruments, such that some were turned off permanently and others were cycled on and off in accordance with a power sharing plan implemented in September 1989. The Asteroid/Meteroid Detector failed in December 1973, followed by the Helium Vector Magnetometer (HVM) in November 1975 and the Infrared Radiometer in January 1974. The Meteroid Detector was turned off in October 1980 due to inactive sensors at low temperatures. The spacecraft sun sensors became inoperative in May 1986, and the Imaging Photopolarimeter (IPP) instrument was used to obtain roll phase and spin period information until being turned off in October 1993 to conserve power. The Trapped Radiation Detector (TRD) and Plasma Analyzer (PA) were respectively turned off in November 1993 and September 1995 for the same reason. As of January 1996 the final power cycling plan included part-time operations of the Charged Particle Instrument (CPI), the Cosmic Ray Telescope (CRT), the Geiger Tube Telescope (GTT), and the Ultraviolet Photometer (UV). Power availability for operation of one or more instruments was expected to continue at least through 1998. Currently, the GTT and CPI instruments are still returning data during occasional tracking intervals; GTT operates nominally, returning data whenever tracking takes place (there is no onboard tape recorder), while CPI is cycled on for about four hours every two weeks. Three-way doppler data for radio science are also obtained during some tracking intervals.

Various other spacecraft subsystems also either failed or were turned off for power or other reasons, and an account of these may be of interest for engineering design of long duration deep space missions. The primary antenna feed offset bellows failed sometime in 1976 but a redundant unit was available for use thereafter. The Program Storage and Execution (PSE) subsystem was turned off in September 1989 for power conservation, after which spacecraft maneuvers were performed by ground command sequences. A receiver problem in mid-1992 prevented uplink to the high gain antenna, after which uplink commands could only be sent with 70-meter DSN antennas which also supported the 16 bps downlink. The Backup Line Heater experienced a sticking thermostat operation in March 1993 for 30 days but the problem did not reoccur. Undervoltage Protection Logic was turned off in December 1993 to prevent loss of critical spacecraft systems in the event of a transient undervoltage condition. Duration and Steering Logic (DSL) was turned off in February 1995 to conserve power, after which it was turned on again only for spacecraft maneuvers. As of March 2, 1998 two experiments (GTT, CPI) were still active. RTG power levels are low enough that the spacecraft occasionally relies in part on battery power (accumulated during inactive periods) to run the experiments and other systems.

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