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NASA Facts Interplanetary Explorer Satellites

NASA Facts Interplanetary Explorer Satellites

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Vol. II, No.

Page 1
Volume I of NASA FACTS
consists of all issues pub-
lished prior to July 1964
and running from A-62 to
8-2-64. Volume II begins
with NASA FACTS, Inter-
planetary Explorer Satellites,
Vol . II , No.1 .
An Educational Services Publication of the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
{ ) . i t ~ / ~ J
Interplanetary Explorer satellite (Explorer XVIII) in space (artist's conception). Interplanetary
Explorers formerly were called Interplanetary Monitoring Platforms (IMP).
Before man can travel to other celestial bodies,
he must solve mysteries about space which have
defied centuries of observation. A significant
step toward this goal is being made through a
series of satellites called Interplanetary Explorers,
the first of which, Explorer XVIII, was launched
November 26, 1963.
Interplanetary Explorers are aimed primarily
at acquiring additional knowledge about radia-
tion and magnetic fields in space between the
earth and moon during a major part of the solar
cycle. The solar cycle refers to a period of ap-
proximately 11 years during which the frequency
of solar eruptions reaches a maximum, a mini·
mum, and then again, a maximum.
As their name implies, Interplanetary Explorers
are designed principally to gather information on
conditions in interplanetary space, which begins
Page 2
Explorer XVIII is prepared for test of its ability to withstand vibration .
Delta rocket vehicle launches Explorer XVIII. This was
the twentieth straight time that the Delta vehicle had
performed as planned.
at the outer border of earth's magnetic field.
The satellites contain arrays of instruments for
acquiring and transmitting detailed data about
the solar ' wind and cosmic rays (both defined be-
low), an.d magnetic fields.
Such information is essential to design of pro-
tective shielding and communications systems for
manned spacecraft journeying to the moon and
beyond. The data also are expected to con-
tribute to development of techniques for fore-
casting solar flares-sudden outbursts of matter
from the sun's surface-that shower space with
lethal radiation. Lunar journeys could then be
timed to avoid these dangerous periods.
Engineers install nose cone around Explorer XVIII
prior to launch.
Traveling above the earth's magnetic field, In-
terplanetary Explorers measure the solar wind,
which is made up of hot electrified gases that
rush constantly from the turbulent surface of the
sun. Its strength depends upon the level of
solar activity. However, the solar wind is less
substantial than winds on earth, consisting of a
relatively scant 10 to 20 atomic particles (chiefly
protons of hydrogen atoms) per cubic inch as
compared with earth winds. Nevertheless, the
wind appears to be a dominant feature of inter-
planetary space.
Results from NASA's Mariner " spacecraft,
coupled with other observations and assump-
tions, indicate that the wind pulls with it parts
of the sun's magnetic field and distributes these
throughout the solar system where they become
interplanetary magnetic fields.
Page 3
Moreover, other evidence, particularly that
provided by artificial satellites, indicates that the
solar wind compresses earth's magnetic field to
an approximately 40,OOO-mile altitude on the
sunny side and stretches or blows it out to as
yet undefined limits on the night side. As a re-
sult of these findings and careful analyses, scien-
tists presume that the earth's magnetic field is
shaped like a tear drop with the portion of the
magnetic field on earth's night side trailing our
planet like the tail of a comet.
Interplanetary Explorers are expected to shed
new light on the limits of earth's magnetic field
and on the interplay between earth's and inter-
planetary magnetic fields and the solar wind.
Cosmic rays, the most penetrating kind of
harmful radiation known, pose a major danger
to man in interplanetary space. They consist of
protons (nuclei of hydrogen atoms), alpha parti-
cles (nuclei of helium atoms), nuclei of atoms
heavier than hydrogen or helium, and electrons.
Energies of cosmic rays may be millions of
times greater than the energies of particles in the
solar wind. Solar wind particles have energies
in the hundreds and thousands of electron volts.
(The el ectron volt is a scientific measurement unit
for comparing energies of atomic particles.
The electron volt is a tiny unit of energy. As an
exa mple, it would take the equivalent of 550
sextillion-55 followed by 22 zeros-electron
volts to keep a 25-watt light bulb burning for an
Characteristic energies of cosmic rays emitted
by the sun, usually in conjunction with a solar
flare, are about one hundred million electron
NASA's Delta launch vehicle attained Its twentieth
consecutive success with the launch of Explorer XVIII.
Delta has also been used in launching communications
satellites including Echo, Relay, Syncom, and Telstar;
the TlROS series of meteorological satellites; and scien-
tific satellites including the Orbiting Solar Observatory,
Explorers XII, XIV, XV, and XVII, and Ariel, the world's
first international satellite (built by the United Kingdom
and the United States).
Page 4
, 1 \
, 1\
" 'J
, ~
. SOLAR FLARE ••••••••• __
\)\ / ...... ~
' \ -.. ~ : - - - -
, ~ --
SUN I'l·· •••••• -__ ___
t • • • • • -. =---..... ------...
II ............. ------
~ ... - ~
, I ••••• · -------
( ...... ~
.. . ..
(,'j ...... -----
) ••• __ 0 " " 1 1 " 1 ~
Artist's conception of cloud of cosmic rays and magnetic field emitted fram the sun following a solar flare and
how it envelops earth creating the Forbush effect (see text)_
volts. Energies of cosmic rays from beyond the
solar system, principally from our Milky Way
galaxy but sometimes from other parts of the
Universe, are in the millions, billions, and trillions
of electron volts.
The most violent of solar eruptions is the solar
flare which fires a vast cloud of cosmic rays into
space. Scientists theorize that the cloud drags
a part of the sun's magnetic field with it.
If the cloud reaches earth's vicinity, its accom-
panying magnetic field screens earth from some
of the cosmic rays that originate outside of the
solar system. This is believed to account for the
phenomenon in which a sudden decrease of these
cosmic rays striking earth was observed to fol-
Iowa solar flare. The event is called the For-
- ~ - ~ - - - ~ - - - ~ - ~ - - - - ~ -
bush decrease for Scott E. Forbush, Carnegie
Institution, Washington, D.C., who first noted it
more than two decades ago.
At the same time, however, the solar cosmic
rays follow the lines of force of the solar mag-
netic field and penetrate earth 's magnetic field
to a depth where they collide with the air mole-
cules and atoms of the atmosphere. Among
the effects on earth that are linked to this phe-
nomenon are radio black-outs, or interference,
and the auroras, or Northern and Southern
lights, that from time to time illuminate the night
skies over certain areas of the globe.
During such an event, astronauts traveling
above the protective shields of earth's atmos-
phere and magnetic field could be endangered
by lethal radiation. Accurate long-range fore-
casts of solar flares are vital to preparations for
Project Apollo which calls for manned explora-
tion of the moon in this decade.
Call-outs designate major equipment of Explorer XVIII,
the first Interplanetary Explorer.
Explorer XVIII, launched from Cape Kennedy
(formerly Canaveral), Florida, on November 26,
1963, is the first Interplanetary Explorer. Its
octagon-shaped structure, about 2% feet across
and a foot in breadth, has eight compartments
or modules into which different kinds of particle
detectors such as Geiger counters and ion cham-
bers are installed, or plugged. Magnetometers,
devices for measuring magnetic fields, are at-
tached to the ends of booms extending from the
basic structure. The satellite weighs 138
Holding the magnetometers away from the
spacecraft's body keeps them from picking up
the weak magnetic forces generated by materials
and electric currents in the platform. The mag-
netometer booms are telescoped at launch and
extended in orbit.
A rubidium vapor magnetometer, designed to
gather comprehensive data about magnetic
The launch of Explarer XVIII kept Intact the perfect
record of scientific satellite launches since the begin-
ning of 1962: eight successes in eight attempts. Other
scientific satellites launched in 1962 and 1963 are
Alouette, Canada's first satellite; the Orbiting Salar
Observatary; Ariel, the United Kingdom-United
States satellite; and Explorers XIV, XV, XVI, and XVII.
All were launched by Delta with the exceptions af
Alouette, launched by Thor-Agena a, and Explorer
XVI, launched by Scaut.
• •
' - - ~ - - - - - ---' ---
Page 5
Artist's drawing (not in scale) of initial orbit of Explorer XVIII.
fields, is housed in a bulbous container at the
end of an approximately 6-foot-long boom (see
illustration of Explorer XVIII) . Two Auxgate
magnetometers, less comprehensive in the infor-
mation they supply than the rubidium vapor
magnetometer but more capable of detecting
faint magnetic fields, are at the tips of two 7-
foot-long booms.
Four whip-like antennas, projecting at 45-
degree angles from the satellite, are part of the
communications system by which ground stations
track and acquire information from Explorer
XVIII. The satellite's four-watt transmitter oper-
ates on radio frequencies of 136.110 mega-
cycles for telemetry (long distance transmission
of information about the satellite and about
space through which it is traveling) and 136.9
megacycles for tracking.
The spacecraft is powered by 11,520 solar
cells, photoelectric devices that convert sunlight
to electricity. The solar cells, which generate a
total of 73 watts, are divided among four solar
paddles, each of which is 2 ],i feet long and 1 Y2
feet wide. In addition, 13 rechargeable nickel-
cadmium storage batteries furnish electricity
when the satellite is in the earth' s shadow.
(They also provide electricity from launch until
the solar paddles are extended in orbit.)
Page 6
Antennas at the lima, Peru, station of NASA' s STADAN
represent one of several kinds that track and gather
data from unmanned satellites.
A Delta launch vehicle rocketed Explorer XVIII
initially into a cigar-shaped orbit reaching as far
as 122,792 miles from earth and dipping as
near as 119.6 miles. The satellite takes about
95 hours to complete each orbit. Orbital in-
clination is 33.3 ° to the equator. This means
that the satellite's orbit intersects the earth's
equatorial plane at a 33.3° angle. (The equa-
torial plane bisects the earth at the equator.)
Because Explorer XVIII races so far into space,
its orbit is noticeably affected by the interplay of
------------- --
the sun's, moon's, and the earth's gravitational
pulls. One result is that the spacecraft's peri-
gee, or closest approach to earth, will rise.
Another is that the inclination or tilt of its orbit
hom the equator will increase. Such pronounced
changes expected over a relatively short time
present scientists with an unusual opportunity to
study the motions of an object in space that are
significantly influenced by several gravitational
The Explorer XVIII experiment marks the first
use of NASA's recently completed range and
range rate system which complements other fa-
cilities of NASA's Satellite Tracking and Data
Acquisition Network (STADAN). STADAN is a
world-wide complex of ground stations that
tracks and acquires data from unmanned satel-
lites. The stations locate the spacecraft, track
it, control the satellite' s data gathering equip-
ment, and receive information acquired and
stored by the satellite while passing between
One of the methods of tracking employed by
ST ADAN is the original Minitrack system estab-
lished during the International Geophysical Year
(IGY) in 1957 and 1958. In this system, the
changing angle of the satellite's radio beam is
The interplanetary Explorer series is one of several spacecraft progra ms designed to augment information about the space
environment and celestial bodies. Other Explorer satellite projects study such phenomena as air density, magnetic fields , tem-
perature, meteoroids, and solar and cosmic radiation. Among additional unmanned spacecraft programs are:
Aloue"e-Canadian satellite orbited by a U.S. launch vehicle.
The satellite was Instrumented to provide new data on electron
density of the Ionosphere.
Ariel-United Kingdom-U.S. satellites designed fo r ionospheric
and radiation studies.
Orbiting Astronomical Observatory-to make telescopic and
other studies of the skies at an altitude where atmospheric
interference is negligible.
Orbiting Geophysical Observatory-to make correlated studies
within earth's atmosphere, the magnetosphere, or cislunar space
on energetic particles, galactic and solar radiation, ionization
processes, meteoroids, and other space phenomena.
Orbiti"9 Solar Observatory -to study the features and be-
havior of the sun for prolonged periods, porticularly its emis-
sion of ultraviolet light, gamma radiation, and X-rays.
Lunar Orbiter-to be launched into an orbit around the moon.
It will be equipped to take pictures af the moon's surface and
provide other scientific data.
Mariner-to fly In the vicinities of and send information about
Mars and Venus. Mariner II, launched December 14, 1962,
provided information abQut Venus, including the possibility
thot the planet' s surface may be as hot as 800· Fahrenheit.
Pioneer-to investigate the interplanetary environment as far
as SO million miles from earth.
Ranger-to send close-range pictures of the lunar surface be-
fore crashing to destruction on the moon.
Surveyor-to contribute to the technology for a soft landing
on the moon and send information about the lunar environ-
ment before and after landing. Such Information may include
pictures of the moonscape.

NASA FACTS Vol. II, No. 1 Page 7
Magnetic fields, solar wind (energetic particles), the shock wave, and region of turbulence as indicated by
Explorer XVIII (see text) . The magnetosphere is the region of space dominated by the geomagnetic field.
The magnetopause is the outer boundary of earth's magnetic field .
measured in relation to two or more tracking an-
tenna systems, each of which has been precisely
oriented. From the measurements and
known distances between the antennas, other
orbit details, including altitude and speed of the
satellite, are calculated.
The new range and range rate system pro-
vides the spacecraft's altitude and velocity more
directly and accurately. In the range and range
rate system, the ground station beams radio sig-
nals to the satellite which in turn transmits to the
station. The round-trip time of the signals fur-
nishes an immediate of range, or
distance. The range rate, or velocity, of the ve-
hicle is obtained by measuring the Doppler shift
of the signals received by the ground station.
The phenomenon known as the Doppler shift
was first expounded in 1842 by Christian Johann
Doppler of Prague (now the capital of Czechoslo-
vakia). Our most familiar experience with the
Doppler shift is the apparent change in pitch, or
frequency, of a train whistle as the train ap-
proaches and passes us. Actually, the pitch of
the train whistle has not changed.
What occurs is that as the train approaches,
the sound waves sent by its whistle in effect pile
up in our direction, resulting in a shorter pitch,
frequency, or wave length. As the train pulls
away, the reverse takes place.
In a similar manner, a satellite's radio trans-
mitter keeps sending signals at the sa me fre-
quency. However, the signals received by the
ground station change frequency as the satellite
moves toward and away from the station. The
rate of change in frequency indic<;ltes the speed
of the satellite.
- - - ~ - ~ - ------ ---- - - - - - - - - - - - ~ - - - - ~ . - _.-
Page 8 NASA FACTS Vol. II, No_ 1
Shock wave (curved dark band) is created by small early model of Mercury spacecraft in supersonic wind tunne l.
Special photographic processes make visible both the shock wave and turbulent air in craft's wake.
Preliminary analyses of data from Explorer
XV'" have provided significant new information
about a shock wave that envelops the earth and
about a band of radiation that lies above the
Van Allen Radiation Region.
A shock wave· is formed in a medium such
as air or water when a body moves through the
medium, or the medium moves past the body, at
very high speed. The material of the medium
is compressed in a wave which streams out
around the body.
The shock wave beyond the Van Allen region
is created by the impact of the speeding solar
wind against earth's magnetic field (the geomag-
netic field). The result is the same as when high
speed air is blown at a blunt object in a super-
sonic wind tunnel. The shock wave is produced
some distance ahead of the object and flows
back on each side.
Explorer XVIII detected the shock wave about
53,000 miles from earth on the earth's sunlit
side. On this side, the geomagnetic field ex-
tends to an altitude of about 40,000 miles.
Between the shock wave and earth's magnetic
field, Explorer XVIII reported a region of turbu-
lent magnetic forces and fluctuating quantities of
energetic particles. Such particles include elec-
tron's and protons, constituents of atoms, and
constitute much of the radiation in space.
Both this region and the geomagnetic field
fan out around the earth and trail off in a direc-
tion away from the sun. They may reach as
far as the orbit of the moon. As a result, the
moon may be bombarded periodically by radia-
tion as it passes through the region. The radia-
tion is not believed to pose a serious hazard for
space travelers .
• SHOCK WAVE: a compression wave formed whenever _the speed of a body relative to a medium exceeds that at
which the medium (such as air or water) can transmit sound, and characterized by a disturbed region of small but lim-
ited thickness within which very abrupt changes occur in the pressure, density, and velocity of the medium (e. g. pas-
sage of a shock wave from an explosion .• . or from the leading wing edge of a supersonic airplane) through a
compressible fluid such as air.
NASA FACTS format is designed for bulletin-board display
uncut, Or for 8 x lOY. looseleaf notebook insertion when
cut along dotted lines and folded along solid lines. For
notebook ring insertion, punch at solid dots in the margins.
NASA FACTS is an educational publication of NASA's Division
of Educational Programs and Services. It will be mailed to
addressees who request it from: NASA, Educotional Publica-
tions Distribution Center, AFEE-l, Washington, D.C., 20546.
For sale by the Super intendent of Documents, U.S. Government Pr inting Office
Washington, D.C., 20402 - Price 15 cents per copy

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