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Pioneer 10
Pioneer 10 at Jupiter.gif
An artist's concept of the Jupiter encounter
Organization Ames Research Center - NASA
Mission type Fly-by, deep space
Flyby of Jupiter (December 3, 1973; 36 year(s) ago (1973-12-03)), Outer Solar System
Launch date 1972-03-03 at 01:49:00 UTC (13888 days ago)[1]
Launch vehicle Atlas/Centaur/TE364-4
Mission duration undefined (11283 days from launch to last contact)
(last contact January 23, 2003; 7 year(s) ago (2003-01-23))
Mass 258 kg

Pioneer 10 (also called Pioneer F) was the first spacecraft to travel through the asteroid belt, on July 15, 1972, and to make direct observations of Jupiter, which it passed by on December 3, 1973. It was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 36A on March 3, 1972 at 01:49:00 UTC. Pioneer 10 is heading in the direction of Aldebaran, located in Taurus. By some definitions, Pioneer 10 has become the first artificial object to leave the solar system. It is the first human-built object to have been set upon a trajectory leading out of the solar system. However, according to the estimated trajectory, it has not yet passed the heliopause or the Oort cloud.[2]

Its objectives were to study the interplanetary and planetary magnetic fields, solar wind parameters, cosmic rays, transition region of the heliosphere, neutral hydrogen abundance, distribution, size, mass, flux, and velocity of dust particles, Jovian aurorae, Jovian radio waves, atmosphere of Jupiter and some of its satellites (particularly Io), and to photograph Jupiter and its satellites.

There is no longer communication with the probe; the last contact was in 2003 and in 2006 a final attempt at contact failed.



Pioneer probe design

Approved in 1969, Pioneer 10 and its sister ship Pioneer 11 were designed to live up to their names – as first-time explorers intended to both gather data and report on conditions in the asteroid belt and in Jupiter-space. How they fared would be critical in the planning and technology of any future missions.[3]

Pioneer 10 was managed as part of the Pioneer program by NASA Ames Research Center and was built by TRW.[4] It was light, at only 260 kg—30 and 27 kg of which were instruments and fuel, respectively.[5] Like the Voyagers, it was powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators (SNAP-19s) containing plutonium-238, which provided 155W at launch, and 140W by the Jupiter flyby. The RTGs were mounted well away from the body to prevent their radiation from interfering with the spacecraft's instruments.[6]

Pioneer 10 was fitted with a plaque to serve as a message for extraterrestrial life, in the event of its discovery.

A backup of Pioneer 10, Pioneer H, is on display at the "Milestones of Flight" exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C..[7]


Instruments on the Pioneer 10 probe included:


Pioneer 10 on the launch pad.

Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to encounter Jupiter and took color photos of the planet in December, 1973. The spacecraft then made valuable scientific investigations in the outer regions of our solar system until the end of its mission on March 31, 1997.

Further contact

Pioneer 10's weak signal continued to be tracked by the Deep Space Network as part of a new advanced concept study of chaos theory. After 1997 the probe was used in the training of flight controllers on how to acquire radio signals from space.

The last successful reception of telemetry was on April 27, 2002; subsequent signals were barely strong enough to detect. Loss of contact was probably due to a combination of increasing distance and the spacecraft's steadily weakening power source, rather than structural failure of the craft.

The last, very weak signal from Pioneer 10 was received on January 23, 2003, when it was 12 billion kilometers (7.5 billion miles) from Earth.[8]

A contact attempt on February 7, 2003 was unsuccessful.

One final attempt was made on the evening of March 4, 2006, the last time the antenna would be correctly aligned with Earth. No response was received from Pioneer 10.[9]

Pioneer 10 is heading in the direction of the star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus at roughly 2.6 AU per year. If Aldebaran had zero relative velocity, it would take Pioneer 10 about 2 million years to reach it.[10]

Timeline of travel

Pioneer 10 mission
Pioneer 10 Jupiter encounter
Location and approximate trajectories of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecrafts as of April 4th, 2007
  • March 3, 1972 – spacecraft launched.
  • July 15, 1972 – entered the Asteroid Belt.
  • December 3, 1973 – Pioneer 10 sent back the first close-up images of Jupiter.
  • June 13, 1983 – Pioneer 10 passed the orbit of Neptune, the outermost planet. (Although Pluto was considered to be a planet at the time, it was closer to the Sun than Neptune at that stage due to its highly eccentric orbit passing within that of Neptune.)
  • March 31, 1997 – end of mission.
  • February 17, 1998 – Voyager 1 overtakes Pioneer 10 as the most distant man-made object from the Sun, at 69.419 AU. Voyager 1 is moving away from the Sun over 1 AU per year faster than Pioneer 10.
  • March 2, 2002 – successful reception of telemetry. 39 minutes of clean data received from a distance of 79.83 AU.
  • April 27, 2002 – the last successful reception of telemetry. 33 minutes of clean data received from a distance of 80.22 AU.
  • January 23, 2003 – the last, very weak, signal from Pioneer 10 was received. Subsequent signals were barely strong enough to detect.
  • February 7, 2003 – unsuccessful contact attempt.
  • December 30, 2005 – Pioneer 10 was 89.7 AUs away from the Sun, traveling at a speed of 28,000 mph, or 12.51 km/sec, which is 0.000041 the speed of light.
  • March 4, 2006 – final attempt at contact. No response was received from Pioneer 10.[11]
  • October, 2009 - speed of the spacecraft indicates it is about to reach 100 AUs from our Sun - or approx 9.3 billion miles. [2] Another comparison is that the nearest star, trinary Alpha Centauri's Proxima companion, is of approx 271,000 AUs distance.[12]

Pioneer anomaly

Analysis of the radio tracking data from the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft at distances between 20–70 AU from the Sun has consistently indicated the presence of a small but anomalous Doppler frequency drift. The drift can be interpreted as due to a constant acceleration of (8.74 ± 1.33) × 10−10 m/s2 directed towards the Sun. Although it is suspected that there is a systematic origin to the effect, none has been found. As a result, there is growing interest in the nature of this anomaly.[13]


See also


  1. ^ "Pioneer 10 Launch Information". Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  2. ^ According to NASA, the Voyager 1 spacecraft reached the termination shock on 2005-05-24 and Voyager 2 on 2007-08-30. Both had travelled at that time about 16 000 bil. km. The termination shock lies nearer to the Sun than the heliopause. Pioneer 10 has reached about 15 363 bil. km on 2008-12-01 (Pioneer 10 on 2008-12-01 00:00 UTC with the Solar System Simulator). It is clear that the spacecraft hasn't reached the heliopause since 1 December 2008 and that nobody will ever know when it reaches it as Pioneer 10 can no longer communicate with Earth as of 2003.
  3. ^ William E. Burrows, Exploring Space, (New York: Random House, 1990), p. 266-8.
  4. ^ NASA mission profile
  5. ^ Ibid., p. 271.
  6. ^ Ibid., pp. 271-2.
  7. ^ "Milestones of Flight". Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. 
  8. ^ "This Month in History", Smithsonian magazine, June, 2003.
  9. ^ The final attempt to contact Pioneer 10
  10. ^ Spacecraft escaping the Solar System
  11. ^ 10-11.html
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Britt, Robert Roy (18 October 2004). "The Problem with Gravity: New Mission Would Probe Strange Puzzle". "The discrepancy caused by the anomaly amounts to about 248,500 miles (400,000 kilometers), or roughly the distance between Earth and the Moon. That's how much farther the probes should have traveled in their 34 years, if our understanding of gravity is correct." 

External links

Simple English

Pioneer 10 was a spacecraft launched by NASA in March 1972. Its aims were to study the planets Jupiter and Saturn as well as the edges of the Solar System. The spacecraft also carried one of two plaques, the pioneer plaques. On the plaques were images that held some information about humans and earth. The other plaque was on pioneer 11.

There is no longer communication with the probe; the last contact was in 2003 and in 2006 a final attempt at contact failed.

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