United States — NASA
Lunar Orbiter 3: Lunar Orbit

Mission Details

Mission Name: Lunar Orbiter 3
Mission Type: Lunar Orbiter
Operator: NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
Launching State: United States
Location: Between Nobel & Mees Craters ?
Latitude: 14.3
Longitude: -97.7
Launch Date: 5 February 1967, 01:17:01 UT
Landing Date: 9 October 1967
Objects on or Related to Site:
Lunar Orbiter 3
Image Source: NASA


Five Lunar Orbiter missions were launched in 1966 through 1967 with the purpose of mapping the lunar surface before the Apollo landings.

All five missions were successful, and 99% of the Moon was photographed with a resolution of 60 m or better. The first three missions were dedicated to imaging 20 potential lunar landing sites, selected based on Earth-based observations. These were flown at low inclination orbits. The fourth and fifth missions were devoted to broader scientific objectives and were flown in high altitude polar orbits.

Lunar Orbiter 3’s primary mission was to photograph smooth areas of the lunar surface to help select safe landing sites for the Apollo missions.

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Heritage Consideration

The spacecraft’s mission was site confirmation as opposed to site search.

Object on or Related to Site

Object Name: Lunar Orbiter 3
Cospar: 1967-008A
Norad: N/A
Location: Precise location unknown or undisclosed.
Launch Date: 5 February 1967, 01:17:00 UT
Landing Date: 9 October 1967
Deployment: N/A
End Date: 9 October 1967
Image Source: NASA


The Lunar Orbiter 3 spacecraft was designed primarily to photograph areas of the lunar surface for confirmation of safe landing sites for the Surveyor and Apollo missions. It was also equipped to collect selenodetic, radiation intensity, and micrometeoroid impact data.

The spacecraft was placed in a cislunar trajectory and injected into an elliptical near-equatorial lunar orbit on 8 February at 21:54 UT. The orbit was 210.2 km x 1801.9 km with an inclination of 20.9 degrees and a period of 3 hours 25 minutes. After four days (25 orbits) of tracking the orbit was changed to 55 km x 1847 km.

The spacecraft acquired photographic data from February 15 to 23, 1967, and readout occurred through March 2, 1967. The film advance mechanism showed erratic behavior during this period resulting in a decision to begin readout of the frames earlier than planned. The frames were read out successfully until 4 March when the film advance motor burned out, leaving about 25% of the frames on the takeup reel, unable to be read.

The spacecraft was used for tracking purposes until it impacted the lunar surface on command at 14.3 degrees N latitude, 97.7 degrees W longitude (selenographic coordinates) on October 9, 1967.

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