Date: 16 Dec 1965
Pioneer 6 was the first in a series of solar-orbiting, spin-stabilized, solar-cell and battery-powered satellites designed to obtain measurements on a continuing basis of interplanetary phenomena from widely separated points in space.
The spacecraft's experiments studied the positive ions and electrons in the solar wind, the interplanetary electron density (radio propagation experiment), solar and galactic cosmic rays, and the interplanetary magnetic field. Its main antenna was a high-gain directional antenna.
The spacecraft was spin-stabilized at about 60 rpm, and the spin axis was perpendicular to the ecliptic plane and pointed toward the south ecliptic pole.
By ground command, one of five bit rates, one of four data formats, and one of four operating modes could be selected. The five bit rates were 512, 256, 64, 16, and 8 bps. Three of the four data formats contained primarily scientific data and consisted of 32 seven-bit words per frame. One scientific data format was for use at the two highest bit rates. Another was for use at the three lowest bit rates. The third contained data from only the radio propagation experiment. The fourth data format contained mainly engineering data. The four operating modes were real time, telemetry store, duty cycle store, and memory readout. In the real-time mode, data were sampled and transmitted directly (without storage) as specified by the data format and bit rate selected.
In the telemetry store mode, data were stored and transmitted simultaneously in the format and at the bit rate selected. In the duty-cycle store mode, a single frame of scientific data was collected and stored at a rate of 512 bps.
The time interval between the collection and storage of successive frames could be varied by ground command between 2 and 17 min to provide partial data coverage for periods up to 19 h, as limited by the bit storage capacity. In the memory readout mode, data were read out at whatever bit rate was appropriate to the satellite distance from the Earth.
Although the spacecraft has not been regularly tracked for science data return in recent years, a successful telemetry contact was made on 8 Dec. 2000 to celebrate 35 years of continuous operation since launch.