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Viking 2 Orbiter



The Viking project consisted of launches of two separate spacecraft to Mars, Viking 1, launched on 20 August 1975, and Viking 2, launched on 9 September 1975. Each spacecraft consisted of an orbiter and a lander. After orbiting Mars and returning images used for landing site selection, the orbiter and lander detached and the lander entered the martian atmosphere and soft-landed at the selected site. The orbiters continued imaging and other scientific operations from orbit while the landers deployed instruments on the surface. The fully fueled orbiter-lander pair had a mass of 3527 kg. After separation and landing, the lander had a mass of about 600 kg and the orbiter 900 kg.

Spacecraft and Instrumentation

The primary objectives of the Viking orbiters were to transport the landers to Mars, perform reconnaissance to locate and certify landing sites, act as a communications relays for the landers, and to perform their own scientific investigations. The orbiter, based on the earlier Mariner 9 spacecraft, was an octagon approximately 2.5 m across. The total launch mass was 2328 kg, of which 1445 kg were propellant and attitude control gas. The eight faces of the ring-like structure were .4572 m high and were alternately 1.397 and 0.508 m wide. The overall height was 3.29 m from the lander attachment points on the bottom to the launch vehicle attachment points on top. There were 16 modular compartments, 3 on each of the 4 long faces and one on each short face. Four solar panel wings extended from the axis of the orbiter, the distance from tip to tip of two oppositely extended solar panels was 9.75 m. The power was provided by eight 1.57 x 1.23 m solar panels, two on each wing. The solar panels were made up of a total of 34,800 solar cells and produced 620 W of power at Mars. Power was also stored in 2 nickel-cadmium 30-amp-hr batteries.

The main propulsion unit was mounted above the orbiter bus. Propulsion was furnished by a bipropellant (monomethyl hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide) liquid-fueled rocket engine which could be gimballed up to 9 degrees. The engine was capable of 1323 N thrust, translating to a delta-V of 1480 m/s. Attitude control was achieved by 12 small compressed-nitrogen jets. An acquisition Sun sensor, a cruise Sun sensor, a Canopus star tracker and an inertial reference unit consisting of 6 gyroscopes allowed three-axis stabilization. Two accelerometers were also on board. Communications were accomplished through a 20-W S-band (2.3 GHz) transmitter and 2 20-W TWTA's. An X-band (8.4 GHz) downlink was also added specifically for radio science and to conduct communications experiments. Uplink was via S-band (2.1 GHz). A 2-axis steerable high-gain parabolic dish antenna with a diameter of approximately 1.5 m was attached at one edge of the orbiter base, and a fixed low-gain antenna extended from the top of the bus. Two tape recorders were each capable of storing 1280 Mbits. A 381 MHz relay radio was also available. Temperature control was achieved by multilayer insulation, thermally activated louvers, and electrical heaters.

Scientific instruments for conducting imaging, atmospheric water vapor, and infrared thermal mapping were enclosed in a temperature controlled, pointable scan platform extending from the base of the orbiter. The scientific instrumentation had a total mass of approximately 72 kg. Radio science investigations were also done using the spacecraft transmitter. Command processing was done by two identical and independent data processors, each with a 4096-word memory for storing uplink command sequences and acquired data.

Mission Profile

Following launch and a 333 day cruise to Mars, the Viking 2 Orbiter began returning global images of Mars prior to orbit insertion. The orbiter was inserted into a 1500 x 33,000 km, 24.6 hr Mars orbit on 7 August 1976 and trimmed to a 27.3 hr site certification orbit with a periapsis of 1499 km and an inclination of 55.2 degrees on 9 August. Imaging of candidate sites was begun and the landing site was selected based on these pictures and the images returned by the Viking 1 Orbiter. The lander separated from the orbiter on 3 September 1976 and landed at Utopia Planitia at 22:37:50 UT. Normal operations called for the structure connecting the orbiter and lander (the bioshield) to be ejected after separation, but because of problems with the separation the bioshield was left attached to the orbiter. The orbit inclination was raised to 75 degrees on 30 September 1976. The orbiter primary mission ended at the beginning of solar conjunction on 8 November 1976. The extended mission commenced on 14 December 1976 after solar conjunction. On 20 December 1976 the periapsis was lowered to 778 km and the inclination raised to 80 degrees. Operations included close approaches to Deimos in October 1977 and the periapsis was lowered to 300 km and the period changed to 24 hours on 23 October 1977. The orbiter developed a leak in its propulsion system that vented its attitude control gas. It was placed in a 302 x 33176 km orbit and turned off on 25 July 1978 after returning almost 16,000 images in 706 orbits around Mars.

The total cost of the Viking project was roughly one billion dollars. For a detailed description of the Viking mission and experiments, see "Scientific Results of the Viking Project," J. Geophys. Res., v. 82, n. 28, 1977.

Alternate Names

  • Viking Orbiter 2
  • Viking-A Orbiter
  • 08199

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1975-09-09
Launch Vehicle: Titan IIIE-Centaur
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 883.0 kg
Nominal Power: 620.0 W

Funding Agency

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


  • Planetary Science

Additional Information

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



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Dr. Richard S. YoungProgram ScientistNASA Headquarters 
Mr. Walter JakobowskiProgram ManagerNASA Headquarters 
Mr. James S. Martin, Jr.Project ManagerNASA Langley Research Center 
Dr. Gerald A. SoffenProject ScientistNASA Langley Research Center 

Selected References

Tolson, R. H., et al., Orbit and position determination for Mars Orbiters and Landers, J. Spacecr. Rockets, 7, No. 9, 1095-1100, Sept. 1970.

Soffen, G. A., Scientific results of the Viking mission, Science, 194, No. 4271, 1274-1276, Dec. 1976.

Soffen, G. A., The Viking project, J. Geophys. Res., 82, No. 28, 3959-3970, Sept. 1977.

Snyder, C. W., The missions of the Viking Orbiters, J. Geophys. Res., 82, No. 28, 3971-3983, Sept. 1977.

Other Viking Information/Data at NSSDCA

NSSDCA Viking page

View some of the images taken of Mars by Viking and other missions

Viking image indexes - Includes an index of latitude and longitude of all Orbiter images

Related Information/Data at NSSDCA

Mars Page
Mars Fact Sheet
Mars Frequently Asked Questions

Other Sources of Viking Information/Data

Viking Lander Images (PDS Imaging Node)
PDS Geosciences Node
Viking Image Atlas of Mars
Center for Mars Exploration
Viking Computer Facility: Meteorology and Images
FTP access to selected Viking CD-ROMs

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