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Apollo 16 Subsatellite



The Apollo 16 Particles and Fields Subsatellite (PFS-2) was a small satellite released into lunar orbit from the Apollo 16 Service Module. Its main objectives were to study the plasma, particle, and magnetic field environment of the Moon and map the lunar gravity field. Specifically it measured plasma and energetic particle intensities and vector magnetic fields, and facilitated tracking of the satellite velocity to high precision. A basic requirement was that the satellite acquire fields and particle data everywhere on the orbit around the Moon. The subsatellite was virtually identical to the one deployed by Apollo 15. The Moon's roughly circular orbit about the Earth at ~380000 km (60 Earth radii) carried the subsatellite into both interplanetary space and various regions of the Earth's magnetosphere. The subsatellite orbited the Moon and returned data from 24 April until 29 May 1972.

Spacecraft and Subsystems

The Apollo 16 subsatellite was a hexagonal cylinder 78 cm in length and approximately 36 cm across opposite corners of the hexagon with a mass of 36.3 kg. Three equally-spaced 1.5-meter-long deployable booms were hinged to one of the end platforms. A fluxgate magnetometer was on the end of one boom and the other two carried tip masses to provide balance. A short cylinder was attached to the end platform opposite the booms and was used for the initial deployment and spin-up of the satellite, which was achieved using a spring loaded mechanism in the SM bay. A wobble damper inside the satellite removed precessional and nutational motions. An S-band antenna protruded from the panel opposite the booms. Solar panels covering the six sides provided about 24 W of energy in sunlight and an average power of 14 W over one orbit of the Moon. The power subsystem also included a battery pack of 11 silver cadmium cells. An S-band transmitter was capable of sending 128 bits/s to the Earth. A magnetic core memory unit provided a storage capacity of 49,152 bits when the spacecraft could not transmit directly. Two solid state particle telescopes were mounted on an end panel of the spacecraft and four particle analyzer devices were attached to the sides.

Mission Profile

Apollo 16 launched at 17:54:00 UT (12:54:00 p.m. EST) on 16 April 1972 and went into orbit around the Moon on 19 April at 20:22 UT. The Apollo 16 subsatellite was deployed on 24 April at 21:56:09 UT by launching it from the Service Module at a relative velocity of approximately 1.2 m/s using a spring loaded device which also imparted a spin of 140 rpm to the satellite. After release, the booms were deployed, lowering the spin rate to 12 rpm. The spin axis was about 5.5 degrees from normal to the ecliptic plane. A planned CSM orbit shaping maneuver was not performed prior to deployment to avoid firing the CSM main engine due to degraded backup thrust vector control, so the satellite was not released into a nominal orbit. The initial periselene was 90 km, initial aposelene was 130 km, and initial orbital inclination was 10 degrees with respect to the Moon's equator, but the orbit was rapidly altered by gravitational perturbations. The orbital period was approximately 120 minutes, clockwise as viewed from north. The geocentric ecliptic longitude of the Moon at the time of launch was 138 degrees. Because the initial orbit was not optimal, it decayed rapidly and the subsatellite prematurely impacted the Moon on May 29, 1972, after 34 days (425 revolutions) in orbit. The final telemetry was received at 20:31 UT just before lunar impact. Impact was estimated to be at 10.16 N, 111.94 E.

Alternate Names

  • 06009
  • Apollo 16D
  • PFS-2
  • Apollo16Subsatellite
  • Particles and Fields Subsatellite
  • urn:nasa:pds:context:instrument_host:spacecraft.a16s

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1972-04-24
Launch Vehicle: Saturn 5
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 36.3 kg
Nominal Power: 24 W

Funding Agency

  • NASA-Office of Manned Space Flight (United States)


  • Planetary Science
  • Space Physics

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. H. Kent Hills



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail

Selected References

  • Anderson, K. J., et al., Subsatellite measurements of plasma and energetic particles, in Apollo 16 Prelim. Sci. Rept., NASA SP-315, 22, 1-6, Wash., DC, 1972.
  • Apollo 16 - expedition to Descartes (mission report), NASA, MR-11, Wash., D.C., 1972.

Other Sources of Apollo 16 Information at NSSDCA

Apollo 16 Command Module
Apollo 16 Lunar Module
Apollo 16 Page

Other Sources of Apollo Information at NSSDCA

Apollo Page
Lunar Science Page

Related Information at NSSDCA

Moon Page

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