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Explorer 15



Explorer 15 was a spin-stabilized, solar-cell-powered spacecraft instrumented to study the artificial radiation belt produced by the Starfish high-altitude nuclear burst of July 1962. The backup payload for Explorer 14 was modified and used for Explorer 15. The instrumentation included three sets of particle detectors to study both electrons and protons, and a two-axis fluxgate magnetometer to determine magnetic aspect. A 16-channel PFM/PM time-division multiplexed telemeter was used. The time required to sample the 16 channels (one frame period) was 0.323 s. Half of the channels were used to convey eight-level digital information, and the others were used for analog information. During ground processing of the telemetered data, the analog information was digitized with an accuracy of 1/100th of full scale. One analog channel was subcommutated in a pattern 16 frames long and was used to telemeter spacecraft temperatures, power system voltages, currents, etc. A digital solar aspect sensor measured the spin period and phase, digitized to 0.041 s, and the angle between the spin axis and the sun direction to about 3-deg intervals. During launch the spacecraft failed to despin. The spin rate ranged from 72.9 to 73.2 rpm during the life of the spacecraft. The spin axis pointed at right ascension 80.97 deg and declination 20.9 deg.

Explorer 15 experienced intermittent electronic failures in the spacecraft encoder due to under-voltage. The undervoltage was caused by damage due to exposure to remnant radiation from the Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test. Part of the mission objectives involved studying the artificial radiation belt created by this test.

Starfish Prime

Starfish Prime was an American high-altitude nuclear test that took place on 9 July 1962. Launch took place from Johnston atoll in the Pacific Ocean (about 1330 km southwest of Honolulu) at 8:46:28 UT on 9 July 1962 (10:46:28 pm, 8 July local time) on a Thor rocket carrying a W49 thermonuclear warhead. Detonation of the warhead occurred at 09:00:09 UT on 9 July (11:00:09 pm local time, 8 July) at an altitude of 400 km. Total yield was 1.4 megatons. The explosion, occurring at a geomagnetic latitude 10.5 degrees, generated an electromagnetic pulse and large quantities of charged particles. These had the effect of damaging many operating satellites, both at the time of the blast and later, as the energetic particles remained trapped in the Earth's magnetic field, forming an artificial radiation belt that persisted for many weeks after the explosion. These damaged satellites include TRAAC, Transit-4B, Ariel 1, Cosmos 5, Telstar 1, Explorers 14 and 15, and possibly Injun 1, OSO-1, Alouette 1, and ANNA-1B.

Alternate Names

  • 00445
  • 1962 Beta Lambda 1
  • EPE-C
  • Explorer15
  • S 3B

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1962-10-27
Launch Vehicle: Thor-Delta
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 44.4 kg

Funding Agency

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


  • Space Physics

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. John F. Cooper



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Dr. John W. TownsendProject ManagerNASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Dr. Wilmot N. HessProject ScientistNASA Goddard Space Flight Center
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