Pioneer 0

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Pioneer 0
Pioneer able.png
The lunar orbiter Pioneer 0.
Mission typeLunar orbiter[1][2]
OperatorAir Force Ballistic Missile Division[3][1][2]
Mission duration73.6 seconds[4]
Failed to orbit
Apogee16 kilometers (9.9 mi)[2]
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerSpace Technology Laboratories[1][2]
Launch mass83.8 pounds (38.0 kg)[5]
Start of mission
Launch date17 August 1958, 12:18 (1958-08-17UTC12:18Z) GMT[1][2]
RocketThor DM-18 Able-I
(Thor # 127)[1][2]
Launch siteCape Canaveral, LC-17A[2]
Television camera, magnetometer, micrometeoroid impact detector[5]
Project Able-1 Probes (USAF)
TV camera : Photograph the Moon
Magnetometer : Interplanetary magnetic field
Micrometeoroid detectors : Micrometeoroids

Pioneer 0 (also known as Able 1) was a failed United States space probe that was designed to go into orbit around the Moon, carrying a television camera, a micrometeorite detector and a magnetometer, as part of the first International Geophysical Year (IGY) science payload. It was designed and operated by the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division as the first spacecraft in the Pioneer program and was the first attempted launch beyond Earth orbit by any country,[6] but the rocket failed shortly after launch. The probe was intended to be called Pioneer (or Pioneer 1), but the launch failure precluded that name.

Spacecraft design[edit]

The spacecraft consisted of a thin cylindrical midsection with a squat truncated cone frustum of 16.5 cm (6 in) high on each side.[4] The cylinder was 74 cm (29 in) in diameter[4] and the height from the top of one cone to the top of the opposite cone was 76 cm. Along the axis of the spacecraft and protruding from the end of the lower cone was a 11 kg (24 lb) solid propellant injection rocket and rocket case, which formed the main structural member of the spacecraft. Eight small low-thrust solid propellant velocity adjustment rockets were mounted on the end of the upper cone in a ring assembly which could be jettisoned after use. A magnetic dipole antenna also protruded from the top of the upper cone. The shell was composed of laminated plastic and was painted with a pattern of dark and light stripes to help regulate temperature.

The scientific instrument package had a mass of 11.3 kg (25 lb) and consisted of:

The spacecraft was powered by nickel-cadmium batteries for ignition of the rockets, silver cell batteries for the television system, and mercury batteries for the remaining circuits. Radio transmission was on 108.06 MHz, a standard frequency used by satellites in the International Geophysical Year,[7] through an electric dipole antenna for telemetry and doppler information and a magnetic dipole antenna for the television system. Ground commands were received through the electric dipole antenna at 115 MHz. The spacecraft was to be spin-stabilized at 1.8 revolutions per second, the spin direction approximately perpendicular to the geomagnetic meridian planes of the trajectory.

Launch and failure[edit]

Pioneer 0 was launched on Thor missile number 127 at 12:18:00 GMT on 17 August 1958 by the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, only 4 minutes after the scheduled launch time.[4] It was destroyed by an explosion of the first stage of the Thor booster, 73.6 seconds after lift-off[4] at 15.2 km (9.4 mi) altitude, 16 km (10 mi) downrange over the Atlantic Ocean. The failure was suspected to be due to a turbopump bearing that came loose, causing the liquid oxygen pump to stop. The abrupt loss of thrust caused the Thor to lose attitude control and pitch downward, which caused the LOX tank to rupture from aerodynamic loads and resulting in complete destruction of the launch vehicle.[4] Erratic telemetry signals were received from the payload and upper stages for 123 seconds after the explosion, and the upper stages were tracked to impact in the ocean. The original plan was for the spacecraft to travel for 2.6 days to the Moon at which time a TX-8-6 solid-propellant motor would fire to put it into a 29,000 km (18,000 mi) lunar orbit which was to nominally last for about two weeks. Air Force officials stated that they were not surprised at the failure, adding that "it would have been more of a shock had the mission succeeded."[citation needed] It was the only mission in the Project Able-1 Probes (USAF) entirely run by the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, as subsequent missions were conducted by NASA.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Pioneer 0, 1, 2". Mission and Spacecraft Library. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA. Archived from the original on 2009-01-31. Retrieved 2009-02-17.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Wade, Mark (2008). "Pioneer 0-1-2". Encyclopedia Astronautica. Archived from the original on 2008-10-15. Retrieved 2009-02-17.
  3. ^ Waldron, Harry (Fall 2004). "The Air Force Ballistic Missile Division and the Pioneer Lunar Probes of 1958" (PDF). High Frontier the Journal for Space and Missile Professionals. United States Air Force Space Command. 1 (2): 10. Retrieved January 4, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "1958 NASA/USAF Space Probes (ABLE-1) Final Report: Volume 1. Summary" (PDF). Space Technology Laboratories. 1959-02-18. Retrieved 2009-02-17. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ a b c d e "1958 NASA/USAF Space Probe (ABLE-1) Final Report: Volume 2. Payload and Experiments" (PDF). Space Technology Laboratories. 1959-02-18. Retrieved 2009-02-17. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ Siddiqi, Asif A. (2018). Beyond Earth: A Chronicle of Deep Space Exploration, 1958–2016 (PDF). The NASA history series (second ed.). Washington, DC: NASA History Program Office. p. 1. ISBN 9781626830424. LCCN 2017059404. SP2018-4041.
  7. ^ Marcus, Gideon (2007-02-14). "Pioneering Space" (PDF). Quest. pp. 52–59. Retrieved 2009-02-17.

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