OV3 satellites schematic
Mission typeEarth science
COSPAR ID1966-070A
SATCAT no.S02201
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerSpace General
Launch mass75 kg (165 lb)[1]
Start of mission
Launch date4 August 1966 10:45:01 (1966-08-04UTC10:45:01) UTC
RocketScout B
Launch siteVandenberg Space Launch Complex 5[2]
Orbital parameters
RegimeMedium Earth Orbit
Perigee altitude360.00 km (223.69 mi)
Apogee altitude4,492.00 km (2,791.20 mi)
Period137 minutes [3]
Epoch4 August 1966 10:48:00
← OV3-4
OV3-2 →

Orbiting Vehicle 3-3 (also known as OV3-3[4]), launched 4 August 1966, was the third satellite to be launched in the OV3 series of the United States Air Force's Orbiting Vehicle program. The satellite measured charged particles in orbit so that their danger to space-based payloads could be assessed. OV3-3 is still in orbit as of 29 July 2021.


The Orbiting Vehicle satellite program arose from a US Air Force initiative, begun in the early 1960s, to reduce the expense of space research. Through this initiative, satellites would be standardized to improve reliability and cost-efficiency, and where possible, they would fly on test vehicles or be piggybacked with other satellites. In 1961, the Air Force Office of Aerospace Research (OAR) created the Aerospace Research Support Program (ARSP) to request satellite research proposals and choose mission experiments. The USAF Space and Missiles Organization created their own analog of the ARSP called the Space Experiments Support Program (SESP), which sponsored a greater proportion of technological experiments than the ARSP.[5]: 417  Five distinct OV series of standardized satellites were developed under the auspices of these agencies.[5]: 425 

Unlike the OV1 and OV2 series satellites, which were designed to use empty payload space on rocket test launches, the six OV3 satellites all had dedicated Scout boosters. In this regard, the OV3 series was more akin to its civilian science program counterparts (e.g. Explorer). OV3 differed from NASA programs in its heavy use of off-the-shelf equipment, which resulted in lower unit cost.[5]: 422–423 

The first four satellites in the series were made the Aerojet subsidiary Space General Corporation under a $1.35m contract awarded 2 December 1964, the first satellite due October 1965. The last two satellites were built by Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory (AFCRL), which also managed the entire series and provided four of the OV3 payloads.[5]: 422–423 

Charles H. Reynolds, Technical Manager of OV3
Charles H. Reynolds, Technical Manager of OV3

Charles H. Reynolds, who worked at AFCRL from 1955, was the technical manager for the OV3 program.[6] AFCRL scientists Don F. Smart and Rita C. Sagalyn managed the satellite project.[7]

Prior to the launch of OV3-3, two other OV3 satellites had been placed into orbit. OV3-1, launched 22 April 1966, measured radiation around the Earth, returning data for over a year.[6] Launched on 10 June 1966, OV3-4 was the second in the OV3 satellite series.[2] It measured the effects of radiation on tissue-equivalent samples.[8]

Spacecraft design

Like the rest of the OV3 satellites, OV3-3 was an octagonal prism, .74 m (2 ft 5 in) in length and width, with experiments mounted on booms. 2560 solar cells provided 30 Watts of power. The satellite was spin-stabilized, but because it was asymmetrical once its booms were extended,[9] OV3-3 maintained its attitude in orbit with a precession damper.[5]: 422–423  The spacecraft was spin stabilized at 8 revolutions per minute (rpm)[3] A sun sensor, as well as an onboard tri-axial magnetnometer, gave information on the satellite's aspect (facing), its spin rate, and rate of precession.[10][5]: 423 

OV3-3 massed 75 kg (165 lb).[1] Its design life-span was one year.[5]: 423 


OV3-3's scientific payload consisted of seven experiments originally flown on the failed OV2-1 mission. Designed to measure particle radiation over a wide energy spectrum, the instruments included a Faraday Cup electrometer, two directional telescopes, and three spectrometers. OV3-3 also carried a magnetometer to measure magnetic fields and plasma fluctuations, aided in this by its VLF radio receiver.[5]: 423 


Launched from Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 5 on 4 August 1966 at 10:45:01 UTC via Scout B rocket into a polar orbit,[3] OV3-3 was the third satellite to be launched in the OV3 series.[2] The satellite measured trapped and precipitating particles and their correlated electromagnetic wave fields. Its systems performed well for 14 months until the onboard tape recorder failed in September 1967. Low-latitude, real-time tracking continued into 1969 when the spacecraft was deactivated.

OV3-3 instruments returned data on solar protons,[11] and data received from the satellite's VLF receiver determined the location of the plasmapause (the outer boundary of the Earth's inner magnetosphere).[12]

Legacy and status

As of 29 July 2021, OV3-3 is still in orbit, and its position can be tracked on-line.[4]

The OV3 program ultimately comprised 6 missions, five of them successful. The last (OV3-6) flew on 4 December 1967.[2] The OV3 program was terminated following OV3-6 in favor of the cheaper OV1 program.[5]: 423 


  1. ^ a b William R. Corliss (1967). Scientific Satellites. Washington D.C.: Science and Technical Information Division, Office of Technology Utilization, NASA. p. 774. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d McDowell, Jonathan. "Launch Log". Jonathan's Space Report. Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  3. ^ a b c "OV3-3". NASA. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  4. ^ a b "OV3-3". Retrieved 29 July 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Powell, Joel W.; Richards, G.R. (1987). "The Orbiting Vehicle Series of Satellites". Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. Vol. 40. London: British Interplanetary Society.
  6. ^ a b Charles H. Reynolds (July 1967). "Anniversary of OV3-1". research review. Vol. 6 no. 7. Office of Aerospace Research. pp. 10–11. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  7. ^ "AFCRL Satellite Measures Charged-Particle Distributions out to 3090 NM". research review. Vol. 5 no. 6. Office of Aerospace Research. June 1966. pp. 18–19. Retrieved 1 April 2021.
  8. ^ Cornelius A. Tobias and Paul Todd, ed. (1974). Space Radiation Biology and Related Topics Prepared Under the Direction of the American Institute of Biological Sciences for the Office of Information Services, United States Atomic Energy Commission. Academic Press Inc. p. 68.
  9. ^ George A. Kuck (August 1968). Low-Energy Auroral Electrons Measured by Satellite OV3-1. Retrieved 8 June 2021.
  10. ^ "Research Review". Vol. 6 no. 2. Office of Aerospace Research. February 1967. p. 4-5. Cite magazine requires |magazine= (help)
  11. ^ J. B. Blake; G. A. Paulikas; S. C. Freden (1969). "Observations of solar protons aboard OV3-3 and ATS-1". Solar Flares and Space Research, Proceedings of a Symposium, held on the occasion of the 11th Plenary Meeting of the Committee on Space Research. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publication Co.: 258.
  12. ^ S. R. LaValle; D. D. Elliott (1 April 1972). "Observations of SAR arcs from OV1-10". Journal of Geophysical Research. 77 (10): 1802–1809.