The Pioneer Venus Orbiter was inserted into an elliptical orbit around Venus on December 4, 1978. The Orbiter was a flat cylinder 2.5 m in diameter and 1.2 m high. All instruments and spacecraft subsystems were mounted on the forward end of the cylinder, except the magnetometer, which was at the end of a 4.7 m boom. A solar array extended around the circumference of the cylinder. A 1.09 m despun dish antenna provided S and X band communication with Earth.
The Pioneer Venus Orbiter carried 17 experiments (with a total mass of 45 kg):
From Venus orbit insertion to July 1980, periapsis was held between 142 and 253 km (at 17 degrees north latitude) to facilitate radar and ionospheric measurements. The spacecraft was in a 24 hour orbit with an apoapsis of 66,900 km. Thereafter, the periapsis was allowed to rise (to 2290 km at maximum) and then fall, to conserve fuel. In 1991 the Radar Mapper was reactivated to investigate previously inaccessible southern portions of the planet. 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.
Detailed information on the orbiter, experiments, and data - NSSDCA Master Catalog
The Pioneer Venus Multiprobe consisted of a bus which carried one large and three small atmospheric probes. The large probe was released on November 16, 1978 and the three small probes on November 20. All four probes entered the Venus atmosphere on December 9, followed by the bus.
The Pioneer Venus large probe was equipped with 7 science experiments, contained within a sealed spherical pressure vessel. This pressure vessel was encased in a nose cone and aft protective cover. After deceleration from initial atmospheric entry at about 11.5 km/s near the equator on the Venus night side, a parachute was deployed at 47 km altitude. The large probe was about 1.5 m in diameter and the pressure vessel itself was 73.2 cm in diameter. The science experiments were:
The three small probes were identical to each other, 0.8 m in diameter. These probes also consisted of spherical pressure vessels surrounded by an aeroshell, but unlike the large probe, they had no parachutes and the aeroshells did not separate from the probe. Each small probe carried a nephelometer and temperature, pressure, and acceleration sensors, as well as a net flux radiometer experiment to map the distribution of sources and sinks of radiative energy in the atmosphere. The radio signals from all four probes were also used to characterize the winds, turbulence, and propogation in the atmosphere. The small probes were each targeted at different parts of the planet and were named accordingly. The North probe entered the atmosphere at about 60 degrees north latitude on the day side. The night probe entered on the night side. The day probe entered well into the day side, and was the only one of the four probes which continued to send radio signals back after impact, for over an hour.
More detailed information on the probes is available.
The Pioneer Venus bus also carried two experiments, a neutral mass spectromenter and an ion mass spectrometer to study the composition of the atmosphere. With no heat shield or parachute, the bus survived and made measurements only to about 110 km altitude before burning up. The bus was a 2.5 m diameter cylinder weighing 290 kg, and afforded the only direct view of the upper Venus atmosphere, as the probes did not begin making direct measurements until they had decelerated lower in the atmosphere.
Detailed information on the probes, experiments, and data - NSSDCA Master Catalog
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
Venus images in the NSSDCA Photo Gallery
Pioneer Venus heliospheric position
| NSSDCA Planetary page | Heliophysics page |