TRW-Built NASA Spacecraft Sends Signal From 7.4 Billion Miles in Space
Some great performances go on and on. Thirty years after it was launched, the TRW-built Pioneer 10 spacecraft -- the first man-made object to leave the solar system -- has communicated with NASA scientists from 7.4 billion miles in interstellar space.
Pioneer 10's mission was to explore the planet Jupiter using 11 scientific instruments aboard the 570-pound spacecraft. It was designed to last only 21 months. The spacecraft is powered by four nuclear radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), because sunlight is too weak beyond Jupiter to provide energy with solar arrays.
``The combination of a reliable spacecraft and a long-term power supply enabled Pioneer 10 to not only perform its original mission flawlessly, but go on to achieve a host of 'firsts' in space exploration,'' said Greg Davidson, TRW director, civil space.
During its 30-year odyssey, Pioneer 10 ventured through the asteroid belt to send back the first close-up images of Jupiter and its moons, and, in 1983, became the first man-made object to leave the solar system. From its present location -- roughly 80 times farther from Earth than the sun -- Pioneer 10 still generates a signal discernible by antennas at NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) in Madrid, Spain.
Although NASA formally decommissioned the spacecraft in 1997, scientists have intermittently made contact with Pioneer. On March 2, 2002, its 30th birthday, scientists sent a signal to the spacecraft. A little more than 22 hours later, the time it took for the signal to travel out and return, Pioneer signaled back loud and clear.
Pioneer 10 is headed toward the constellation Taurus (the Bull), where it will pass the nearest star in the constellation in about two million years.
TRW provides advanced technology products and services for the aerospace, information systems and automotive markets. The company, which celebrated its 100th year of operations during 2001, had year-end 2001 sales of $16.4 billion. For more information, visit TRW's corporate Web site at http://www.trw.com .