Launch Date September 25, 1960 | 15:13 UT
Launch Site Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA | Launch Complex 12
Destination Earth's Moon
Type Orbiter
Status Unsuccessful
Nation United States
Alternate Names Able VA, Atlas Able 5A, Pioneer-Y


Pioneer P-30, also known as Able VA, was designed to study the Moon from orbit with suited of nine science instruments.


A malfunction in the booster rocket caused the probe to burn up in Earth's atmosphere 17 minutes after launch. Ground controllers were able to make the first successful firing of a onboard rocket on a spacecraft during the short mission.

In Depth

This probe, Able VA, had a slightly different instrument complement from that of its predecessor Able IVB (launched in November 1959), but it had similar mission goals.

Able VA was to enter lunar orbit about 62.5 hours after launch with parameters of 2,500 x 1,400 miles (4,000 x 2,250 kilometers) in a period of 10 hours. During the launch, although the first stage performed without problems, the Able second stage ignited abnormally and shut down early because of an oxidizer system failure. The third stage never fired, and the probe burned up in Earth's atmosphere 17 minutes after launch.

Although the mission was a failure, ground controllers fired Able VA's onboard
liquid propellant hydrazine rocket engine—the first time that an onboard motor was fired
on a space vehicle. Later, on Nov. 15, 1960, NASA announced that two objects from the Able VA payload had been found in Transvaal, South Africa.


Launch Vehicle: Atlas-Able (no. 2 / Atlas D no. 80)

Spacecraft Mass: 387 pounds (175.5 kg)

Spacecraft Instruments:

  1. high-energy radiation counter
  2. ionization chamber
  3. Geiger-Mueller tube
  4. low-energy radiation counter
  5. two magnetometers
  6. scintillation spectrometer
  7. micrometeoroid detector
  8. plasma probe
  9. Sun scanner

Spacecraft Dimensions: 4.6-foot (1.4 meter) diameter

Estimated Cost: $9 - $10 million USD

Additional Resources

National Space Science Data Center Master Catalog: Pioneer P-30

Selected References

Siddiqi, Asif A. Deep Space Chronicle: A Chronology of Deep Space and Planetary Probes 1958-2000, NASA, 2002.​

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