Pioneer 11 magtape images decoded

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The Pioneer 11 (also known as Pioneer G) is an unmanned spacecraft from NASA, which was launched on April 6, 1973. The purpose of the mission was to explore the outer parts of our solar system and is part of the Pioneer program. Pioneer 11 was the first probe to reach planet Saturn, which was approached to 21,000 km on 1 September 1979. Before that the probe also flew past Jupiter on December 4, 1974 and approached the planet to 34,000 km.

Pioneer 10 and 11 also had cameras called the photopararimeter (IPP). The IPP worked, in my opinion, a bit like the old mechanical Baird television system. The IPP had a diaphragm and was centrifuged to create a "scan" pattern that was digitized and returned as a bit of data stream, which was reconstructed into the known photographs.

I bought a pair of Pioneer 11 magnetic computer tapes via Ebay and read them. The tape has a width of 0.5 inch (12.7 mm) and is wound on a reel with a diameter of 10.5 inch (267 mm). The length is about 731 meters. Here some pictures of the tires:

Pione-4138N.JPG

Pione-4138N

Pione-QK7992Hfront.png

Pione-QK7992H

The tapes have been read in, and from QK7992H we converted the digital photo files into modern PNGs.

Here three B & W photos as an animation:
TlVAQNL.gif


I have spoken with someone who has previously worked with Pioneer 10 and 11 photos, and according to him, the Zodiacal light photos were taken with the probe in 1978. Our tapes reach from 1975 til 1978.

The probe had two color channels, red and blue.
We have found three color photos, but I do not know how to make a color image.
We have to create a green channel ourselves. Here a ZIP file with separate color channels of the 3 color photos . Maybe someone can make something fun with it?

We do not know the data format of tape 4138N, so we can not do anything with that. The pictures above are from QK7992H. We still have a tape, 7937, with data that looks like QK7992H, but then from 1975. Maybe pictures of planets? Reading is a bit dicey at the moment we are adjusting our drives and will try again.

More on the way.
 
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Fascinating. It is awesome that you managed to decode them. I wonder why NASA would sell something so unique and valuable?
 
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We have converted all 6 image files from the Pione-QK7992H tape to PNGs, and have processed multiple versions from them (Contrast equalized, inverted, different colour combinations for duo-colour images.)

All of the files will be published soon, together with information we could gather about the other 6 files we don't know how to process yet. All files have their own folder with the PNGs, binary data, metadata and miscellaneous info.

We asked the collector who bought the other 8-something Pione tapes if he wants his tapes digitized for free. But unfortunately he has no interest in preserving his collection for future generations, a shame!

We are still looking for the documents mentioned in the previous reply, if you know where we can find them, please email us!

Regards,
Niels
 
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Greetings,

It has been a while since I last posted here. A lot of progress has been made.

For starters, there are 12 files on the tape, of which we have confirmed 6 to be image files, and have decoded them. There are 3 B/W images and 3 duo-colour images. (file1, 2, 6, 7, 11, 12)

Here is one of the 3 colour images:
JytCKmg.png


As to what is on them... we do not yet know. If you know anybody that could help, tell him about me!

As for the 6 remaining files, we are not sure what those are. Their ASCII metadata is similar to the image files, but the data is different. By processing some of the remaining files anyway, we get weird patterns that could hint to some kind of image format, but we don't know!

In order to celebrate new year, I have decided to release an alpha-version of the processed data from tape Pione-QK7992H done by Hans. He has seperated the binary data from all 12 files from the SIMH file and put each in their own folder. When applicable he converted them to images. Each folder is supplied with the raw binary data and readable ASCII metadata.

Note this is unfinished, as some non-image files have only their metadata supplied, not the binary data. This will be done later when Hans has the time.

https://archive.org/download/SpaceData/Pione-QK7992H-Processed-Alpha.zip
(File scanned by VirusTotal, no positives: https://www.virustotal.com/#/url/65...af06befbcb89a9013625ef191a69ccc3c63/detection)

For more discoveries in 2019!
Niels
 
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Hello everyone,

With the help of the unmannedspaceflight forum we've finally been able to trace down the images recovered from our Pioneer tapes.

Lets dive in:
The images recovered from our Pioneer tapes belong to spectrophotometry observations of Planets, Satellites and Asteroids.


The online files that match files on our tapes can be found here:

https://archive.stsci.edu/proposal_search.php?id=PSMGT&mission=iue

The B/W and colour images on QK7992H are LWR01530, LWR01531 and LWR01532.
We've got only a small part of Pione-7937 for now (Reading last year has been dicey) but its metadata says its LWR1888.

So what have we learnt from this?

1. Its still possible to correctly read and digitize binary data from magnetic tapes, at least into the 70's and 60's. As long as care and expertise is provided.

2. With the help of people around the world we were able to correctly process the image data into a common, modern format readily accessible with modern operating systems and software.

3. A crucial factor in the correct data processing has been the metadata found on the tape, which was easily readable and provided important clues to its contents.

4. Its unlikely the remaining tapes contain some of the lost Pioneer data sets, as they were all part of the same lot.

5. Crowdsourcing and openly providing the files has perhaps been the most important factor in the success of this project.

Hopefully I will be able to provide data from the remaining tapes at one point.

Regards,
Niels
 

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Hello everyone,

With the help of the unmannedspaceflight forum we've finally been able to trace down the images recovered from our Pioneer tapes.

Lets dive in:
The images recovered from our Pioneer tapes belong to spectrophotometry observations of Planets, Satellites and Asteroids.


The online files that match files on our tapes can be found here:

https://archive.stsci.edu/proposal_search.php?id=PSMGT&mission=iue

The B/W and colour images on QK7992H are LWR01530, LWR01531 and LWR01532.
We've got only a small part of Pione-7937 for now (Reading last year has been dicey) but its metadata says its LWR1888.

So what have we learnt from this?

1. Its still possible to correctly read and digitize binary data from magnetic tapes, at least into the 70's and 60's. As long as care and expertise is provided.

2. With the help of people around the world we were able to correctly process the image data into a common, modern format readily accessible with modern operating systems and software.

3. A crucial factor in the correct data processing has been the metadata found on the tape, which was easily readable and provided important clues to its contents.

4. Its unlikely the remaining tapes contain some of the lost Pioneer data sets, as they were all part of the same lot.

5. Crowdsourcing and openly providing the files has perhaps been the most important factor in the success of this project.

Hopefully I will be able to provide data from the remaining tapes at one point.

Regards,
Niels
This is freaking awesome. Now if someone could bring back Polaroid!
 
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