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NASA An Educational Services Publication of the

FACT S page /
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National Aeronautics and Space Administration
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EXPLORER XIX
THE AIR DENSITY SATELLITE

N 64 27069
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The 12-foot diameter Explorer XIX is inflation tested . At upper le ft of sphere are solar ce lls
that convert sunlight to electricity for powering the satellite 's radio transmitter .

THE EARTH'S ATMOSPHERE


Explorer XIX is one of a series of satellites
designed to increase knowledge about air den- The earth is surrounded by a vast ocean
sities at altitudes above a hundrec;l miles. Such of air called the atmosphere. The air is a mix-
information is important not only for the ad- ture of oxygen, nitrogen, water vapor, helium,
vancement of science but also in predicting the hydrogen, and other gases.
influence of the thin air at these altitudes on Scientists once believed that the atmos-
spacecraft motion . phere stopped at about 100,000 feet above
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Artist's conception of Explorer XIX in orbit. Cutaway shows locations of radio tracking
beacon and batteries that are attached to inside surface of the sphere. The insulating band
divides the satellite into two metallic sections that serve as transmitting antennas .

earth because conventional aircraft controls UPPER ATMOSPHERE DENSITY VARIES


were ineffective beyond that height. Since the
advent of the Space Age, they have learned that The density of air dwindles with increasing
the atmosphere extends many thousands of miles altitude. Upper atmosphere density has been
into space. Some scientists contend that the found to vary also from day to day and day to
atmosphere continues to the outer edge of night. The density over one geographic region
earth's magnetic field. This edge is no closer may differ from that above another. There are
than 40,000 miles to earth ' s surface. also fluctuations during the 27-day period in
About 99 percent of the air in the atmos- which the sun makes a complete rotation on its
phere is concentrated in the first 20 miles above aXIs. Abrupt increases in air density have
earth. Some scientists suggest that the upper been observed to follow solar flares-sudden
atmosphere begins at the 20-mile altitude. outbursts of matter from the sun.
Others set its beginning at higher altitudes. Air density also fluctuates with the solar
Satellite measurements have indicated the cycle. The cycle is a period of about 1 1 years
sparseness of air in the upper atmosphere. As during which solar activity, as evidenced by the
an example, one calculation derived from sat- frequency and magnitude of sunspots, solar
1 ellite data is that the air at earth's surface is flares, and other eruptions, starts at a maximum,
40 trillion times denser than at an altitude of declines to a minimum, and then again rises to
400 miles. a maximum.

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NASA FACTS VOL. 11-2 Page 3

Technicians make final ch e ck of Explorer XIX payload whi ch is mounted


on fourth stage of Scout launch vehicle .

Scientists theorize that increased solar White circl.es (resembling polka dots)
activity warms the upper atmosphere and that painted on the satellite ' s outer surface contribute
as the atmosphere warms, it swells and lifts to temperature balance by absorbing less of the
denser layers to higher altitudes . As the sun sun 's heat than the aluminum skin . Temperature
quiets down, the upper atmosphere cools and balance is required for operation of the space-
contracts, becoming less dense at any altitude. craft's electronic equipment.
Mounted inside of the satellite is a small
radio that transmits a tracking signal. Its power
DESCRIPTION OF EXPLORER XIX is supplied by a rechargeable storage battery
within the sphere and a bank of solar cells on
Explorer XIX is essentially a 1 2-foot diam- the satellite's outer surface . Solar cells convert
eter inAated sphere weighing about 17 pounds. sunlight to electricity. They contain sil icon, a
Because it is so large and so light in weight, it material that emits electrons when struck by
is markedly affected even by the sparse air light. The electrons are channeled into w i res
atoms and molecules of the upper atmosphere. and, thus harnessed, become an electric cu rrent.
I Scientists calculate air density in the satelli!e's
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I path by comparing the spacecraft ' s orbit with a EXPERIMENT DESCRIPTION
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I theoretical orbit based upon the absence of air.
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I Explorer XIX is constructed of a four-ply A principal purpose of the Explorer XIX
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I laminate, consisting of alternating layers of experiment is to extend measurements of air
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I l/2-mil-thick polyester plastic film and l/2-m il-thick density in the upper atmosphere to t he polar
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I aluminum foil. The aluminum foil forms the regions. Prior experiments have furnished
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I outside surface; and the plastic, the i nside sur- measurements of the atmosphere over other
face . (A mil is one-thousandth of an inch.) areas of earth . The various measurements
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permit comparison of densities and temperatures In recent years, however, many scientists
of the upper atmosphere over different latitudes have theorized that energetic particles may also
of earth. playa major role in heating of the upper atmos-
Another goal is to learn more about the phere. To help determine how the atmosphere
contributions of energetic particles and ultra- reacts to such particles, scientists are comparing
violet light to heating and, consequently, density data on atmospheric density provided by Ex-
of the upper atmosphere. Energetic particles plorer XIX as it passed over polar regions with
are electrified constituents of atoms such as pro- information from Explorer IX as it orbited over
tons and electrons. Bands of these particles areas closer to the equator. The Explorer IX
that have been trapped in earth's magnetic field satellite, launched February 16, 1961, is similar
and surround the globe are called the Van Allen to Explorer XIX. It burned up during re-entry
Radiation Region. on April 9, 1964.
Ultraviolet radiation is part of a family The polar areas were chosen for study of
called the electromagnetic spectrum . Among temperature variations due to particles because
the ether members of this family are X-rays, energetic particles penetrate the atmosphere
radio waves, and visible light. Most of the over these areas more deeply than they do
ultraviolet radiation streaming to earth is ab- regions closer to the equator. This stems from
J sorbed by earth ' s atmosphere. For a long the fact that the lines of force of earth ' s mag-
time, scientists believed that ultraviolet rays netic field tend to become nearly vertical, instead
were chiefly responsible for heating of the upper of horizontal, at the poles. As a result, the
atmosphere . flight of energetic particles to earth is not barred

Folding of a 12-foot diameter Air Density Explorer satellite . After folding, technicians will
pack it in a metal cylinder 9 inches in diameter and 19 inches long to be launched into
Earth orb it by a Scout launch vehicle .
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NASA FACTS VOL. 11-2 Page 5
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I ·as effectively over the poles as over other areas.
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I The lines of force of earth's magnetic field
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I can be visualized on a small scale by sprinkling
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I iron filings around a bar magnet. Note how
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I the iron filings, which follow the magnet's lines
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I of force, curve inward at both ends, or poles of
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the bar magnet.
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I LAUNCH AND ORBITAL INFORMATION
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I Explorer XIX was orbited by a Scout launch
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I vehicle which was fired from Point Arguello,
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I California, on December 19, 1963. Initially,
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I the satellite ' s apogee (highest altitude) was
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I almost 1490 miles; its perigee (lowest altitude),
about 368 miles; and its period (time for one
revolution about the earth), approximately 116
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T minutes.
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. 0 At launch, Explorer XIX was folded and
5 packed inside a metal cylinder 8V2 inches in
l
A diameter and 19 inches long. In orbit, com-
T
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5 pressed nitrogen gas pushed the sphere from its
III container and inflated it to a 12-foot diameter.
The orbit of Explorer XIX swings as far
north as Thule, Greenland, and as far south as
the Antarctic continent, enabling the satellite to
cover most of the globe. Explorer XIX is being
tracked by NASA radio tracking stations and by
the sensitive telescopic cameras of the world-
wide Baker-Nunn network, which is operated by
the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

IQSY
INTERNATIONAL QUIET SUN YEAR
On January 1, 1964, scientists of mony nations
inaugurated a two-year cooperative study of the sun
called IQ5Y for International Quiet Sun Years. The
program is a sequel to the IGY, or International Geo-
physical Years, a study of the earth and space con-
ducted by world scientists in 1957 and 1958.
The somewhat incongruous term "quiet sun" has its
origin in observations made during many years which
indicated, as noted previously, that the tempo of solar
activity follows a cycle of roughly 11 years, beginning
at peak solar activity, dropping to a low, and rising
again to a maximum .
IQSY is being conducted during the time of min-
imum solar activity when the sun is relatively free of
Scout launch vehicle rocke ts Explorer XIX from Point A rguello , solar flares, sunspots, and other eruptions. During
California .
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IGY, the sun was in the mast active time of its cycle , The spacecraft monitors solar radiation and mag-
of activity. netic fields at widely separated points in space. Their
A major goal of IQSY is to compare its observa- experiments are designed to provide basic data on the
tions with those of IGY. Such comparisons and other interplanetary environment and measure solar effects
IQSY studies are expected to yield increased under- upon the environment.
standing of how the sun behaves and how it governs Data from NASA scientific satellites and sounding
natural events on and near earth. rockets are already contributing information relating
The major NASA effort supporting U.S. participa- to the IQSY. Among such satellites ';re Explorer XIX
tion in IQSY will be the launching of a series of Pioneer (described In this NASA FACTS) and Explorer XVIII, the
spacecraft on long-duration missions during which they first of a 5erles af Interplanetary Explorer Satellites.
will cover millions of miles of interplanetary space. (See NASA FACTS-Interplanetary Explorer Satellites. )

Deflated and folded Explorer XIX is carefully fitted insidE! the metal container in which it will
ride into orbit .

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