Surveyor Final Report—Jack Fisher


The Surveyor program concluded with the launch of Surveyor VII on January 7, 1968. After landing the spacecraft operated successfully into the second lunar day until February 21. A final program report, consisting of four volumes, was prepared and submitted to JPL in June.

Final Engineering Report June 1968

Volume I Summary

Volume II System Design

Volume III Test and Operations

Volume IV Reliability, Quality Assurance, and Bibliography

Ellen Dent was kind enough to lend me her Surveyor Final Report—all four volumes consisting of more than 1000 pages. This report contains a full and complete description of the spacecraft and its mission, but does not dwell upon the seven-year history of the program. However, Volume I does include a summary of the pre-contractual study period that is presented below.

EARLY MISSION STUDIES—transcribed by Faith MacPherson

The Surveyor spacecraft program was initiated on 4 May 1960, when JPL transmitted copies of design study requirements to 32 firms. On 13 May, 39 companies attended a bidders’ conference at JPL and on 16 June, proposals from 24 firms (including several team proposals) were submitted. On 11 July, partially funded study contracts were awarded to the Hughes Aircraft Company, McDonnell Aircraft, North American Aviation, and Space Technology Laboratories. Under JPL Contract No. N-30010, Hughes agreed to supply the “engineering services and facilities necessary to perform the preliminary design and technical study for a Lunar Soft Landing Spacecraft System.” On 15 December, the study reports and proposals were submitted to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The technical study report (Reference 1) comprised three volumes. Volume 1 described the management plan, Volume 2 contained the contractual data, and Volume 3, of which there were then supplemental parts, summarized the Surveyor system, describing the analysis, conclusions, and preliminary design of the spacecraft system for soft landings on the moon during the period of April 1963 to August 1965.

In performing the design study, the basic mission objectives were: 1) to soft land a cargo of scientific instruments on the surface of the moon, 2) to provide for operation of the instruments for at least a 30-day period on the surface (through light and dark cycle), and 3) to telemeter the scientific data back to earth for retrieval and reduction.

The following constraints were used in arriving at the design: 1) total vehicle system weight and dimensions limited to injection capabilities of the Atlas/Centaur booster – approximately 2500 pounds, 2) ascent trajectory characteristics to injection assumed fixed, 3) trajectory transit times restricted to approximately 42, 66, or 90 hours for visibility by Goldstone at arrival, 4) landing at a lighted position for TV observation probably required, 5) soft landing for instrument survival less than 10 earth g.

The purposes of the design study were to:

  1. Ascertain the overall feasibility of the Surveyor mission
    a) In terms of present and anticipated state of the art
    b) Within the schedule and the limitations for a 1963 launching
    c) With reliability adequate to achieve the overall mission

2. Examine the mission capabilities, within the overall feasibility in terms of
a) Scientific instrumentation capacity
b) Information rate
c) Lifetime

3. Generate a preliminary design of the spacecraft

The conclusions of the study, in summary, were that the overall mission was feasible within the current technical state of the art and within the time schedule specified. A total instrument load of 315 pounds could be landed at touchdown velocities less than 10 fps at any position of the moon, and up to 365 pounds under favorable calendaric conditions corresponding to the complete complement of JPL-nominated experiments. A total expected life of 90 days of lunar operation could be achieved, with a maximum data transmission rate of 4400 bits/sec. In arriving at the preliminary design a choice was made in favor of adequate but well established or measurable performance, as against superior but speculative performance. Similarly, to avoid performance risks, techniques for guidance, control and landing were chosen for minimum dependence on surface characteristics of the moon, and a 66-hour nominal 42- or 90-hour trajectory.

For operational and mission schedule flexibility, the 315 pound payload was recommended for the standard configuration to permit landing at any combination of lunar declination and position of the moon in its orbit, and at almost any lunar phase except as restricted by the scientific objectives. The system, furthermore, had scientific flexibility to permit landings at any point in approximately half the eastern visible face of the moon within an accuracy of 60 kilometers (99 percent).

During the latter half of 1960, two technical progress meetings were held to review Hughes’ progress.  In January 1961, NASA selected Hughes for the initiation of contract negotiations leading to the development, fabrication, testing and operations associated with the Surveyor spacecraft system.  A letter contract issued on 1 March 1961 put Hughes under JPL Contract No. 950056.

Reference 1: Project Surveyor, Volume 1, Management Plan Hughes Document ED 6111R; Volume 2, Contractual Data, ED 6112R; Volume 3, Summary of Surveyor System, ED 6113R through 6123R, December 1960.






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About Jack Fisher

Jack was a systems engineer at Hughes from 1961 to 1992. He contributed to various programs including Surveyor, Pioneer Venus, Galileo, Intelsat VI and innumerable proposals. He was the manager of of the Spacecraft Systems Engineering Lab until his retirement. Upon retirement Jack taught systems engineering at a number of national and international venues.