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Pioneer 11



Pioneer 11 was the second mission to investigate Jupiter and the outer solar system and the first to explore the planet Saturn and its main rings. Pioneer 11, like Pioneer 10, used Jupiter's gravitational field to alter its trajectory radically. It passed close to Saturn and then it followed an escape trajectory from the solar system.

The spacecraft was 2.9 m long and contained a 2.74-m diameter high-gain antenna of aluminum honeycomb sandwich material whose feed was topped with a medium-gain antenna. A low-gain, omnidirectional antenna was mounted below the high-gain dish. The spacecraft contained two nuclear electric-power generators, which generated 144 W at Jupiter, but decreased to 100 W at Saturn. There were three reference sensors: a star (Canopus) sensor, and two sun sensors. Attitude position could be calculated from the reference direction to the earth and the sun, with the known direction to Canopus as backup. Pioneer 11's star sensor gain and threshold settings were modified, based on experience gained from the settings used on Pioneer 10. Three pairs of rocket thrusters provided spin-axis control (maintained at 4.8 rpm) and change of the spacecraft velocity. The thrusters could be either fired steadily or pulsed, by command.

Communications were maintained via the omnidirectional and medium-gain antennas, which operated together, connected to one receiver, while the high-gain antenna was connected to the other receiver. The receivers could be interchanged by command. Two radio transmitters, coupled to two traveling-wave tube amplifiers, produced 8 W power each in S-band. Communication uplink (earth to spacecraft) operated at 2110 MHz, and downlink (spacecraft to earth) at 2292 MHz. At Jupiter's distance, round-trip communication time took 92 min. Data were received at the Deep Space Network (DSN). The spacecraft was temperature-controlled to between -23 and +38 deg C (-10 to +100 deg F). An additional experiment, a low-sensitivity fluxgate magnetometer, was added to the Pioneer 11 payload.

Instruments studied the interplanetary and planetary magnetic fields; solar wind properties; cosmic rays; transition region of the heliosphere; neutral hydrogen abundance; distribution, size, mass, flux, and velocity of dust particles; Jovian aurorae; Jovian radio waves; the atmospheres of planets and satellites; and the surfaces of Jupiter, Saturn, and some of their satellites. Instruments carried for these experiments were magnetometer, plasma analyzer (for solar wind), charged-particle detector, ionizing detector, non-imaging telescopes with overlapping fields of view to detect sunlight reflected from passing meteoroids, sealed pressurized cells of argon and nitrogen gas for measuring penetration of meteoroids, UV photometer, IR radiometer, and an imaging photopolarimeter, which produced photographs and measured the polarization. Further scientific information was obtained from celestial mechanics and occultation phenomena.

This spacecraft, like Pioneer 10, contains a plaque that has a drawing depicting man, woman, and the location of the sun and earth in the galaxy.

During its closest approach, 03 December 1974 (SCET-UT) , Pioneer 11 passed to within 43,000 km of Jupiter's cloud tops. It passed by Saturn on 01 September 1979, at a distance of 21,000 km from Saturn's cloud tops. The spacecraft has operated on a backup transmitter since launch. Instrument power sharing began in February 1985 due to declining RTG power output. Science operations and daily telemetry ceased on 30 September 1995 when the RTG power level was insufficient to operate any experiments. As of the end of 1995 the spacecraft was located at 44.7 AU from the Sun at a nearly asymptotic latitude of 17.4 degrees above the solar equatorial plane and was heading outward at 2.5 AU/year.

Alternate Names

  • Pioneer-G
  • 06421

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1973-04-06
Launch Vehicle: Atlas-Centaur
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 259.0 kg
Nominal Power: 165.0 W

Funding Agency

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


  • Astronomy
  • Planetary Science
  • Space Physics

Additional Information

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



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Mr. Richard O. FimmelProject ManagerNASA Ames Research Center 
Dr. James B. WillettProgram ManagerNASA Headquarters 
Dr. Palmer DyalProject ScientistNASA Ames Research Center 
Dr. W. Vernon JonesProgram ScientistNASA

Selected References

Northrop, T. G., et al., Pioneer 11 Saturn encounter, J. Geophys. Res., 85, No. A11, 5651-5652, Nov. 1980.

Fimmel, R. O., et al., Pioneer odyssey encounter with a giant, NASA, SP-349, Washington, D.C., 1974.

Fimmel, R. O., et al., Pioneer first to Jupiter, Saturn, and beyond, NASA, SP-466, Washington, D.C., 1980.

Other Pioneer 10/11 Information/Data at NSSDCA

Interplanetary magnetic field, plasma, and ephemeris data from Pioneer 10 and 11 are available as COHO data collections. COHOWeb allows the display and retrieval of COHO data. These data are also available via anonymous FTP.

Pioneer data on SPDF's anonymous FTP site

Pioneer 10/11 position data (heliographic coordinates)

Pioneer 10's last signal (NASA Press Release, 2003-02-25)
Pioneer 11 ends operations (NASA Press Release, 1995-09-29)
Status of Pioneer 10 and 11 (1997-12-01)
Status of Pioneer 10 and 11 (1996-12-02)
Status of Pioneer 10 and 11 (1996-05-24)

Related Information/Data at NSSDCA

Jupiter Page
Saturn Page

Other Sources of Pioneer 10/11 Information/Data

Pioneer GTT Charged Particle page (U. of Iowa)
Pioneer Plasma Group page (NASA ARC)

Online version of Pioneer Odyssey (NASA History Office)

Diagram of plaque that was mounted on Pioneer 10/11.

This image shows the plaque that was mounted on the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft.

The Pioneer 10/11 mission patch.

This is an image of the Pioneer 10/11 mission patch.

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