Our SpaceFlight Heritage: 50th Anniversary of Pegasus 1
On Feb. 16, 1965, NASA launched the first of three Pegasus missions from Launch Complex 37-B out of Cape Canaveral. The mission (A-103) consisted of two spacecraft, Pegasus 1 and Apollo Command Module Boiler Plate 16 (BP 16), both placed atop the Saturn 1 rocket SA-9. Pegasus 1 was designed to study the frequency of micrometeorite impacts on space craft. Pegasus 1 was the first active system payload launched by the Saturn systems.
Manufactured by Fairchild Hiller, Pegasus 1 was stored inside [what would have been] the Service Module of the Saturn 1 rocket prior to launch. Once the BP 16 was released into low orbit, the
service module boosted the Pegasus 1 satellite to a higher [boilerplate Command and Service modules were jettisoned; the Pegasus 1 operated at an] altitude between 307 and 461 miles (495 km and 743 km).
The Pegasus satellites were named after the winged horse of Greek mythology due to the wings that unfolded after being deployed. The wings stretched out 96 feet (26 m) and had 104 panels fitted with sensors and various sample protective shields.
NASA was concerned that micrometeoroids were a potential hazard to future Apollo crews as they traveled to the Moon and back, so they wanted a baseline of the frequency and damage an impact could cause, along with testing various shielding materials. The sensors were designed to measure penetration, direction, frequency, and size of impacts.
The wings exposed more than 2,300 square feet (210 square meters) of surface area seeded heavily with not only micrometeorite sensors, but also with sensors that could provide information on the radiation environment surrounding the Earth, measure electronic component lifespans, measure the effectiveness and degradation of thermal control systems and coatings, and record gyroscopic motion and orbital characteristics of structures in micro-gravity. Pegasus 1 remained active for 3 years, 6 months, and 13 days. It was decommissioned in Aug. of 1968, and crashed into the ocean in 1985.
The two flight objectives set for Pegasus 1 were successfully met: (1.) demonstration of the satellite and its systems, and (2.) real time meteoroid data sampling. There were ten other objectives for the flight that did not involve the satellite, but were assigned to the Saturn 1 performance, BP 16, and escape tower. Pegasus 1 was followed up with Pegasus 2 and 3. The entire Pegasus program was formally ended on Aug. 29, 1968.
Video courtesy of Charlie Dean Archives/Universal Newsreels
Gregory N. Cecil is the only Florida State Certified Educator and Nationally Certified Aerospace Technician in the nation. He holds a Masters in Aeronautical Science: Space Operations Management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and worked on the Space Shuttle Program. He is a science teacher and has taught in both public and private schools. Gregory has written over 50 articles relating to the space program and continues to contribute to the promotion of space.