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NASA Facts Rangers and Surveyors to the Moon

NASA Facts Rangers and Surveyors to the Moon

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Published by Bob Andrepont
NASA Facts booklet on the Ranger and Surveyor programs.
NASA Facts booklet on the Ranger and Surveyor programs.

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Jan 02, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Ranger and Surveyor projects of the 1960swere the first U.S. efforts to explore another body inspace: the Moon. The Rangers were designed to relaypictures and other data as they approached the Moonand finally crash-landed into its surface. TheSurveyors were designed for lunar soft landings.Begun at the beginning of the 1960s as ambitious,independent and broad scientific activities, theRangers and Surveyors paved the way for the eventu-al Apollo human exploration missions to the Moon.The two projects were managed for NASA’s Office of Space Science and Applications by the Jet PropulsionLaboratory.
The Ranger Project
Ranger was originally designed, beginning in1959, in three distinct phases, called “blocks.” Each
Rangers and Surveyors to the Moon
National Aeronautics andSpace Administration
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of TechnologyPasadena, CA 91109
Full-scale mockup of the Surveyor spacecraft, displayed on a terrestrial beach.
block had different mission objectives and progres-sively more advanced system design. The JPL mis-sion designers planned multiple launches in eachblock, to maximize the engineering experience andscientific value of the mission and to assure at leastone successful flight.Block 1, consisting of two spacecraft launchedinto Earth orbit in 1961, was intended to test theAtlas/Agena launch vehicle and spacecraft equipmentwithout attempting to reach the Moon.Most elements of spacecraft technology taken forgranted today were untested before Ranger. Perhapsthe most important of these was three-axis attitudestabilization, meaning that the spacecraft is fixed inrelation to space instead of being stabilized by spin-ning. This would permit pointing large solar panels atthe Sun, a large antenna at Earth, and cameras andother directional scientific sensors at their appropriatetargets. Rocket propulsion carried aboard the space-craft was another critically important new technology,needed for accurate targeting at the Moon or distantplanets.In addition, two-way communication and closed-loop tracking, requiring spacecraft and ground systemdevelopment, and the use of on-board computing andsequencing combined with commands from theground, all had to be developed and tried out in flight.Unfortunately, problems with the early version of the launch vehicle left Ranger 1 and Ranger 2 inshort-lived, low-Earth orbits in which the spacecraftcould not stabilize themselves, collect solar power, orsurvive for long.Block 2 of the Ranger project launched threespacecraft to the Moon in 1962, carrying a TV cam-era, a radiation detector, and a seismometer in a sepa-rate capsule slowed by a rocket motor and packagedto survive its low-speed impact on the Moon’s sur-face. The three missions together demonstrated goodperformance of the Atlas/Agena B launch vehicle andthe adequacy of the spacecraft design, but unfortu-nately not all on the same attempt.Ranger 3 was launched into deep space, but aninaccuracy put it off course and it missed the Moonentirely. Ranger 4 had a perfect launch, but the space-craft was completely disabled. The project teamtracked the seismometer capsule to impact just out of sight on the lunar far side, validating the communica-tions and navigation system. Ranger 5 missed themoon and was disabled. No significant science infor-mation was gleaned from these missions.Ranger’s Block 3 embodied four launches in1964-65. These spacecraft boasted a television instru-ment designed to observe the lunar surface during theapproach; as the spacecraft neared the Moon, theywould reveal detail smaller than the best Earth tele-scopes could show, and finally details down to dish-pan size. The first of the new series, Ranger 6, had aflawless flight, except that the television system wasdisabled by an in-flight accident and could take nopictures.The next three Rangers, with a redesigned televi-sion, were completely successful. Ranger 7 pho-tographed its way down to target in a lunar plain,soon named Mare Cognitum, south of the craterCopernicus. It sent more than 4,300 pictures from sixcameras to waiting scientists and engineers.The new images revealed that craters caused byimpact were the dominant features of the Moon’s sur-face, even in the seemingly smooth and empty plains.Great craters were marked by small ones, and thesmall with tiny impact pockmarks, as far down in sizeas could be discerned -- about 50 centimeters (162
Ranger spacecraft 
inches). The light-colored streaks radiating fromCopernicus and a few other large craters turned out tobe chains and nets of small craters and debris blastedout in the primary impacts.In February 1965, Ranger 8 swept an obliquecourse over the south of Oceanus Procellarum andMare Nubium, to crash in Mare Tranquillitatis whereApollo 11 would land 4-1/2 years later. It garneredmore than 7,000 images, covering a wider area andreinforcing the conclusions from Ranger 7. About amonth later, Ranger 9 came down in the 90-kilome-ter-diameter (75-mile) crater Alphonsus. Its 5,800images, nested concentrically and taking advantage of very low-level sunlight, provided strong confirmationof the crater-on-crater, gently rolling contours of thelunar surface.Thus, after a long trouble-plagued start that taughtthe system engineers a great deal and the scientistsvirtually nothing, Project Ranger finished with threeflights that greatly advanced the lunar scientists’knowledge of the surface and whetted their appetitesfor a closer look.
The Surveyor Project
Conceived about the same time as Ranger, theSurveyor project began its development in 1961 withthe selection of Hughes Aircraft Co. as spacecraftsystem contractor to JPL, which managed the project.A different mission, a different launch vehicle and adifferent way of operating the spacecraft werematched by a different way of developing the project.NASA originally contemplated delivering morethan two dozen scientific instruments to the surface of the Moon with a first launch as early as 1963. Sevenmissions to different landing sites were planned forthe first block. A second-generation design, carryinga small lunar roving vehicle, and a non-landing cam-era platform to map the whole moon from orbit werestudied and begun.As a near-contemporary of Ranger, the Surveyorproject was also an engineering and systems experi-ment. It would test the high-energy Atlas/Centaurlaunch vehicle; a new spacecraft design; spacecraftactivities directed from the ground, as contrasted withthe fixed computer sequence employed in Ranger;and a new and elegant robotic landing method, withthree steerable rocket engines controlled by a four-beam spacecraft radar.Delayed repeatedly by the extended developmentof the launch vehicle’s Centaur booster and the diffi-culties of its own development, Surveyor underwentmany evolutions of management, engineering and sci-ence before successfully landing with a remote-con-trolled TV camera at Flamsteed in OceanusProcellarum in June 1966.The first image from Surveyor 1 showed its ownlanding foot firmly planted upon lunar soil, muteproof that landing was possible. Detail as small as 2millimeters (1/12 inch) could bee seen at the closestrange. Panoramic mosaics compiled from many of thefirst Surveyor’s 11,240 TV frames eventually showednearly the entire landing region, out to the horizon.Eventually the spacecraft survived many lunarday/night cycles, responding to radio communicationsuntil January 1967. Surveyor 2 was not as successful,crashing into the Moon. Surveyor 4’s signal was lost2-1/2 minutes after lunar impact.Surveyor 3, 5, 6 and 7 repeated the initial triumphin different sites and successively added a robot armwith scoop and a chemical element analyzer to thescientific tool kit. The ability to examine lunar soilbelow the surface and to identify mineral compositionin a few sites was scientifically exciting, especiallywhen Surveyor 5’s instrument found basalt and estab-lished some history of lunar melting. The determina-tions of adequate bearing strength in the lunar soilwas important for Apollo planning. However, theimaging capability, accumulating almost 90,000images from five sites, was a very powerful scientificinstrument.The Surveyors observed blocks and craters andother features of the surface down to small size andclose range, under different lighting conditions overperiods of weeks to months. They were able to com-pare different terrain types, from plains and differentmaria (including some future Apollo landing regions)to a small mare crater and finally the flank of thecrater Tycho.All told, three Surveyor lunar stations survived atleast one lunar night. One of the spacecraft bouncedinadvertently on the surface and another was deliber-ately flown a few meters to a second site, extendingthe reach of the instruments providing jet-disturbedsurfaces for examination.3

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