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Mariner 1



This was to be the first Mariner mission. It was intended to perform a Venus flyby. The vehicle was destroyed by the Range Safety Officer 293 seconds after launch at 09:26:16 UT when it veered off course. The booster had performed satisfactorily until an unscheduled yaw-lift (northeast) maneuver was detected by the range safety officer. Faulty application of the guidance commands made steering impossible and were directing the spacecraft towards a crash, possibly in the North Atlantic shipping lanes or in an inhabited area. The destruct command was sent 6 seconds before separation, after which the launch vehicle could not have been destroyed. The radio transponder continued to transmit signals for 64 seconds after the destruct command had been sent.

The failure was apparently caused by a combination of two factors. Improper operation of the Atlas airborne beacon equipment resulted in a loss of the rate signal from the vehicle for a prolonged period. The airborne beacon used for obtaining rate data was inoperative for four periods ranging from 1.5 to 61 seconds in duration. Additionally, the Mariner 1 Post Flight Review Board determined that the omission of a hyphen in coded computer instructions in the data-editing program allowed transmission of incorrect guidance signals to the spacecraft. During the periods the airborne beacon was inoperative the omission of the hyphen in the data-editing program caused the computer to incorrectly accept the sweep frequency of the ground receiver as it sought the vehicle beacon signal and combined this data with the tracking data sent to the remaining guidance computation. This caused the computer to swing automatically into a series of unnecessary course corrections with erroneous steering commands which finally threw the spacecraft off course.

Spacecraft and Subsystems

The Mariner 1 spacecraft was identical to Mariner 2, launched 27 August 1962. Mariner 1 consisted of a hexagonal base, 1.04 meters across and 0.36 meters thick, which contained six magnesium chassis housing the electronics for the science experiments, communications, data encoding, computing, timing, and attitude control, and the power control, battery, and battery charger, as well as the attitude control gas bottles and the rocket engine. On top of the base was a tall pyramid-shaped mast on which the science experiments were mounted which brought the total height of the spacecraft to 3.66 meters. Attached to either side of the base were rectangular solar panel wings with a total span of 5.05 meters and width of 0.76 meters. Attached by an arm to one side of the base and extending below the spacecraft was a large directional dish antenna.

The Mariner 1 power system consisted of the two solar cell wings, one 183 cm by 76 cm and the other 152 cm by 76 cm (with a 31 cm dacron extension (a solar sail) to balance the solar pressure on the panels) which powered the craft directly or recharged a 1000 Watt-hour sealed silver-zinc cell battery, which was to be used before the panels were deployed, when the panels were not illuminated by the Sun, and when loads were heavy. A power-switching and booster regulator device controlled the power flow. Communications consisted of a 3 Watt transmitter capable of continuous telemetry operation, the large high gain directional dish antenna, a cylindrical omnidirectional antenna at the top of the instrument mast, and two command antennas, one on the end of either solar panel, which received instructions for midcourse maneuvers and other functions.

Propulsion for midcourse maneuvers was supplied by a monopropellant (anhydrous hydrazine) 225 N retro-rocket. The hydrazine was ignited using nitrogen tetroxide and aluminum oxide pellets, and thrust direction was controlled by four jet vanes situated below the thrust chamber. Attitude control with a 1 degree pointing error was maintained by a system of nitrogen gas jets. The Sun and Earth were used as references for attitude stabilization. Overall timing and control was performed by a digital Central Computer and Sequencer. Thermal control was achieved through the use of passive reflecting and absorbing surfaces, thermal shields, and movable louvers.

The scientific experiments were mounted on the instrument mast and base. A magnetometer was attached to the top of the mast below the omnidirectional antenna. Particle detectors were mounted halfway up the mast, along with the cosmic ray detector. A cosmic dust detector and solar plasma spectrometer detector were attached to the top edges of the spacecraft base. A microwave radiometer and an infrared radiometer and the radiometer reference horns were rigidly mounted to a 48 cm diameter parabolic radiometer antenna mounted near the bottom of the mast.

Total research, development, launch, and support costs for the Mariner series of spacecraft (Mariners 1 through 10) was approximately $554 million.

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1962-07-22
Launch Vehicle: Atlas-Agena B
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 202.8 kg

Funding Agency

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


  • Planetary Science
  • Space Physics

Additional Information

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


Selected References

Parker, P. J., Spacecraft to Mars, Spaceflight, 12, No. 8, 320-321, Aug. 1970.

Mariner 1 and 2, STL Space Log, Space Technol. Lab., Inc., 2, No. 4, 32-34, Redondo Beach, Calif., Dec. 1962.

Related Information/Data at NSSDCA

Venus Page
Venus Fact Sheet

Mariner 2 - information on the successful backup Venus mission

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