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Pioneer Venus Orbiter



The Pioneer Venus Orbiter was the first of a two-spacecraft orbiter-probe combination designed to conduct a comprehensive investigation of the atmosphere of Venus. The spacecraft was a solar-powered cylinder about 250 cm in diameter with its spin axis spin-stabilized perpendicular to the ecliptic plane. A high-gain antenna was mechanically despun to remain focused on the earth. The instruments were mounted on a shelf within the spacecraft except for a magnetometer mounted at the end of a boom to ensure against magnetic interference from the spacecraft. Pioneer Venus Orbiter measured the detailed structure of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere of Venus, investigated the interaction of the solar wind with the ionosphere and the magnetic field in the vicinity of Venus, determined the characteristics of the atmosphere and surface of Venus on a planetary scale, determined the planet's gravitational field harmonics from perturbations of the spacecraft orbit, and detected gamma-ray bursts. UV observations of comets have also been made. From Venus orbit insertion on December 4, 1978 to July 1980 periapsis was held between 142 and 253 km to facilitate radar and ionospheric measurements. Thereafter, the periapsis was allowed to rise (to 2290 km at maximum) and then fall, to conserve fuel. In May 1992 Pioneer Venus began the final phase of its mission, in which the periapsis was held between 150 and 250 km until the fuel ran out and atmospheric entry destroyed the spacecraft the following August. The orbiter cost $125 million to build and operate for the first 10 years. For further details see Colin, L. and Hunten, D. M., Space Science Reviews 20, 451, 1977.

Alternate Names

  • Pioneer Venus 1
  • PVO
  • Pioneer 12
  • Pioneer Venus 1978 Orbiter
  • 10911

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1978-05-20
Launch Vehicle: Atlas-Centaur
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 517.0 kg
Nominal Power: 312.0 W

Funding Agency

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


  • Planetary Science
  • Solar Physics
  • Space Physics

Additional Information

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



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Mr. Henry C. BrintonProgram ScientistNASA Headquarters 
Mr. Richard O. FimmelProject ManagerNASA Ames Research Center 
Mr. John W. DyerGeneral ContactNASA Ames Research Center 
Mr. Robert W. JacksonGeneral ContactNASA Ames Research Center 
Dr. Lawrence ColinProject ScientistNASA Ames Research Center 
Ms. Ann C. MerwarthProgram ManagerNASA Headquarters 

Selected References

Colin, L., Pioneer Venus overview, IEEE Trans. Geosci. Rem. Sens., GE-18, No. 1, 3-4, Jan. 1980.

Nothwang, G. J., Pioneer Venus spacecraft design and operation, IEEE Trans. Geosci. Rem. Sens., GE-18, No. 1, 5-10, Jan. 1980.

Colin, L., Encounter with Venus, Science, 203, No. 4382, 743-745, Feb. 1979.

Colin, L., The Pioneer Venus program, J. Geophys. Res., 85, No. A13, 7575-7598, Dec. 1980.

Other Pioneer Venus Information/Data at NSSDCA

Pioneer Venus Orbiter
Pioneer Venus Probe Bus
Pioneer Venus Large Probe
Pioneer Venus North Probe
Pioneer Venus Night Probe
Pioneer Venus Day Probe

Read about and/or order the PVO CD-ROM set

COHOWeb - Browse and retrieve Pioneer Venus magnetic field data
SPDF anonymous FTP site

Related Information/Data at NSSDCA

Venus Page
Venus images in the NSSDCA Photo Gallery
Magellan Project
Pioneer Venus heliospheric position

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