Pioneer Venus project

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The Pioneer mission to Venus consisted of two components, launched separately. Pioneer Venus 1 or Pioneer Venus Orbiter was launched in 1978 and studied the planet for more than a decade after orbital insertion in 1978. Pioneer Venus 2 or Pioneer Venus Multiprobe sent four small probes into the Venusian atmosphere. This was managed by NASA Ames Research Center as part of the Pioneer series of spacecraft that included Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11.


Pioneer Venus Orbiter

  • Launch date: May 20, 1978
  • Launch vehicle: Atlas-Centaur
  • On-orbit mass: 517 kg
  • Power system: solar array of 312 W

The Pioneer Venus Orbiter was inserted into an elliptical orbit around Venus on December 4, 1978. The Orbiter was a flat cylinder 2.5 m in diameter and 1.2 m high. All instruments and spacecraft subsystems were mounted on the forward end of the cylinder, except the magnetometer, which was at the end of a 4.7 m boom. A solar array extended around the circumference of the cylinder. A 1.09 m despun dish antenna provided S and X band communication with Earth. It was manufactured by Hughes Aircraft Company.

The Pioneer Venus Orbiter carried 17 experiments (with a total mass of 45 kg):

  • a cloud photo-polarimeter (OCPP) to measure the vertical distribution of the clouds, similar to Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 imaging photo-polarimeter (IPP)
  • a surface radar mapper (ORAD) to determine topography and surface characteristics. Observations could only be conducted when the probe was closer than 4700 km over the planet. A 20 Watt S-band signal (1.757 gigahertz) was sent to the surface that reflected it, with the probe analyzing the echo. Resolution at periapsis was 23 x 7 km.
  • an infrared radiometer (OIR) to measure IR emissions from Venus' atmosphere
  • an airglow ultraviolet spectrometer (OUVS) to measure scattered and emitted UV light
  • a neutral mass spectrometer (ONMS) to determine the composition of the upper atmosphere
  • a solar wind plasma analyzer (OPA) to measure properties of the solar wind
  • a magnetometer (OMAG) to characterize the magnetic field at Venus
  • an electric field detector (OEFD) to study the solar wind and its interactions
  • an electron temperature probe (OETP) to study the thermal properties of the ionosphere
  • an ion mass spectrometer (OIMS) to characterize the ionospheric ion population
  • a charged particle retarding potential analyzer (ORPA) to study ionospheric particles
  • two radio science experiments to determine the gravity field of Venus
  • a radio occultation experiment to characterize the atmosphere
  • an atmospheric drag experiment to study the upper atmosphere
  • a radio science atmospheric and solar wind turbulence experiment
  • a gamma ray burst (OGBD) detector to record gamma ray burst events

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