NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive Header

Ranger 1



Ranger 1 was a spacecraft whose primary mission was to test the performance of those functions and parts necessary for carrying out subsequent lunar and planetary missions using essentially the same spacecraft design. A secondary objective was to study the nature of particles and fields in interplanetary space. Failure of the Agena B to re-ignite left Ranger 1 stranded in low-Earth orbit.

Spacecraft and Subsystems

The spacecraft was of the Ranger Block 1 design and consisted of a hexagonal base 1.5 m across upon which was mounted a cone-shaped 4 m high tower of aluminum struts and braces. Two solar panel wings measuring 5.2 m from tip to tip extended from the base. A high-gain directional dish antenna was attached to the bottom of the base. Spacecraft experiments and other equipment were mounted on the base and tower. Instruments aboard the spacecraft included a Lyman-alpha telescope, a rubidium-vapor magnetometer, electrostatic analyzers, medium-energy range particle detectors, two triple coincidence telescopes, a cosmic-ray integrating ionization chamber, cosmic dust detectors, and solar X-ray scintillation counters.

The communications system included the high gain antenna and an omni-directional medium gain antenna and two transmitters, one at 960.1-mhz with 0.25 W power output and the other at 960.05-mhz with 3 W power output. Power was to be furnished by 8680 solar cells on the two panels, a 57 kg silver-zinc battery, and smaller batteries on some of the experiments. Attitude control was provided by a solid-state timing controller, Sun and Earth sensors, and pitch and roll jets. The temperature was controlled passively by gold plating, white paint, and polished aluminum surfaces.

Mission Profile

The Ranger 1 spacecraft was designed to go into an Earth parking orbit and then into a roughly 60,000 x 1,100,000 km Earth orbit to test systems and strategies for future lunar missions. Ranger 1 launched on 23 August 1961 at 10:04:10.26 UT into the Earth parking orbit as planned, but the Agena B restart sequence shut down when a switch malfunctioned and stopped the flow of red fuming nitric acid to the rocket engine. It did not go into the planned higher trajectory, so when Ranger 1 separated from the Agena stage it went into a low Earth orbit (179 x 446 km) and began tumbling a day later when its attitude control gas supply was exhausted. On August 27 the main battery died. On the 111th orbit the satellite re-entered Earth's atmosphere over the Gulf of Mexico at about 09:00 UT on 30 August 1961. Ranger 1 was partially successful, much of the primary objective of flight testing the equipment was accomplished but little scientific data was returned.

Total research, development, launch, and support costs for the Ranger series of spacecraft (Rangers 1 through 9) was approximately $170 million.

Upper spacecraft rendered image credit NASA/NSSDCA (public domain)

Alternate Names

  • 00173
  • 1961 Phi 1
  • Ranger1

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1961-08-23
Launch Vehicle: Atlas-Agena B
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 306.2 kg

Funding Agency

  • NASA-Office of Space Science Applications (United States)


  • Planetary Science
  • Space Physics

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail

Selected References

  • Scientific experiments for Ranger 1 and 2, JPL, Calif. Inst. Technol., TR 32-55, Pasadena, CA, Jan. 1961.
  • Ranger I misses planned path; Systems working in low orbit, Space Technol., 4, No. 4, 15, Oct. 1961.
Image of Ranger block 1

Other Ranger Information/Data at NSSDCA

Ranger 1
Ranger 2
Ranger 3
Ranger 4
Ranger 5
Ranger 6
Ranger 7
Ranger 8
Ranger 9
Ranger Home Page

Rendering of Ranger block 1 Rendered Ranger block 1 spacecraft image credit NASA/NSSDCA (public domain)

Related Information/Data at NSSDCA

Moon Home Page
Moon Fact Sheet

Other Sources of Ranger Information/Data

Lunar Impact: A History of Project Ranger

[] NASA Logo -