Encyclopedia Astronautica
Ranger


Ranger was originally to be a program of five unmanned lunar crasher spacecraft, intended to quickly obtain information on the lunar surface. The scientific objective would be to acquire and transmit a number of images of the lunar surface prior to impact, and to obtain data from a survivable package incorporating a lunar seismometer. The resulting spacecraft was much too ambitious for its period. After five consecutive failures, a simpler, picture-return-only spacecraft made three successful flights, returning the first closeup pictures of the lunar surface years behind schedule.

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Associated Countries
Associated Spacecraft
  • Ranger 1-2 American lunar impact probe. 2 launches, 1961.08.23 (Ranger 1) to 1961.11.18 (Ranger 2). More...
  • Ranger 3-4-5 American lunar lander. 3 launches, 1962.01.26 (Ranger 3) to 1962.10.18 (Ranger 5). More...
  • Ranger 6-7-8-9 American lunar impact probe. 4 launches, 1964.01.30 (Ranger 6) to 1965.03.21 (Ranger 9). After a series of failures with the more ambitious early Ranger spacecraft, the design was simplified and the lander was deleted. More...

Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Atlas Agena B American orbital launch vehicle. Atlas D with improved, enlarged Agena upper stage. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • JPL American agency;manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, USA. More...
  • NASA American agency overseeing development of rockets and spacecraft. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, USA, USA. More...

Associated Launch Sites
  • Cape Canaveral America's largest launch center, used for all manned launches. Today only six of the 40 launch complexes built here remain in use. Located at or near Cape Canaveral are the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, used by NASA for Saturn V and Space Shuttle launches; Patrick AFB on Cape Canaveral itself, operated the US Department of Defense and handling most other launches; the commercial Spaceport Florida; the air-launched launch vehicle and missile Drop Zone off Mayport, Florida, located at 29.00 N 79.00 W, and an offshore submarine-launched ballistic missile launch area. All of these take advantage of the extensive down-range tracking facilities that once extended from the Cape, through the Caribbean, South Atlantic, and to South Africa and the Indian Ocean. More...

Ranger Chronology


1959 December 21 - .
  • Unmanned program of five lunar spacecraft flights described - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Pickering. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 3-4-5. A guideline letter was sent to William H. Pickering, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), from Abe Silverstein, Director of NASA's Office of Space Flight Development, outlining a program of five lunar spacecraft flights, intended primarily to obtain information on the lunar surface. JPL was requested to conduct tradeoff studies on spacecraft design and mission. The scientific objective would be to "acquire and transmit a number of images of the lunar surface." In addition, JPL was asked to "evaluate the probability of useful data return from a survivable package incorporating . . . a lunar seismometer of the type . . . being developed for NASA." This letter provided the formal basis for what was subsequently the Ranger program.

1960 April 26 - .
  • Ford selected to build Ranger instrumented capsule - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. NASA announced that Aeronutronic Division of the Ford Motor Company had been selected from 13 bidders for a $3.5 million contract to design and build a 300pound instrumented capsule which would be crash-landed on the surface of the moon. The capsule would be launched by an Atlas-Agena B and would be attached to a larger payload currently under development at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The larger payload was intended to carry television cameras. When the spacecraft (later named "Ranger") had reached a point 25 miles above the lunar surface, the smaller capsule would detach itself and crash-land. The instruments, including a seismometer and a temperature recorder, would then transmit data back to earth.

1960 May 4 - .
  • Ranger project named - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 3-4-5. Clifford I. Cummings, Jet Propulsion Laboratory spacecraft program director, announced at a meeting of the Aviation Writers Association in Los Angeles, Calif., that the spacecraft which would carry television and a detachable instrumented capsule to be crash-landed on the moon would be called "Ranger."

1961 May 29 - . LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: SLV-3 Agena B.
  • Ranger booster erected. - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Ranger 1-2. Summary: Atlas booster 111-D, to be used for Ranger I, was erected on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral..

1961 July 12 - .
  • First large space simulator in the United States - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 1-2. Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced that construction was under way on the first large space simulator in the United States capable of testing full-scale spacecraft of the Ranger and Mariner classes. Three primary space effects could be simulated: solar radiation, cold space heat sink, and a high vacuum equivalent to about one part in a billion of the atmospheric pressure at sea level.

1961 July 24 - .
  • Contract for television system for Ranger - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 3-4-5. Summary: NASA issued a letter contract to the Astro-Electronic Division of Radio Corporation of America to develop and fabricate the high-resolution television system (including associated communication and electronic equipment) for the Ranger program..

1961 August 23 - . 10:04 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Agena B. LV Configuration: Atlas Agena B 111D (AA1) / Agena B 6001 (AA1). FAILURE: Agena B second stage failure.. Failed Stage: 2.
  • Ranger 1 - . Payload: NASA P-32 (RA-1). Mass: 306 kg (674 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA. Program: Ranger. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Ranger 1-2. Decay Date: 1961-08-30 . USAF Sat Cat: 173 . COSPAR: 1961-Phi-1. Apogee: 446 km (277 mi). Perigee: 179 km (111 mi). Inclination: 32.9000 deg. Period: 90.60 min. Lunar probe; failed to leave Earth orbit. Ranger 1, a test version of the spacecraft which would attempt an unmanned crash landing on the moon, was launched from the Atlantic Missile Range by an Atlas-Agena B booster. The 306 kg spacecraft did not attain the scheduled extremely elongated orbit because of the misfiring of the Agena B rocket. Although the spacecraft systems were tested successfully, only part of the eight project experiments could be carried out. Ranger 1 reentered on August 29 after 111 orbits. Ranger 1's primary mission was to test the performance of those functions and parts that are necessary for carrying out subsequent lunar and planetary missions using essentially the same spacecraft design.

1961 August 29 - .
  • Ranger launchings would be increased to nine - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 6-7-8-9. NASA announced that planned Ranger launchings would be increased from five to nine. These additional spacecraft would be equipped with six high-resolution television cameras. They would be programmed to begin operating at about 800 miles above the lunar surface and continue until moments before the spacecraft crash-landed. The final pictures would record features no more than eight inches across. About 1,600 photographs were expected from each spacecraft, which would no longer carry previously planned instrumented capsules. The objective of these spacecraft now was to provide information on the lunar surface in support of the manned lunar landing mission.

1961 November 18 - . 08:12 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Agena B. LV Configuration: Atlas Agena B 117D (AA2) / Agena B 6002 (AA2). FAILURE: Agena B Second Stage failed to restart.. Failed Stage: 2.
  • Ranger 2 - . Payload: NASA P-33 (RA-2). Mass: 304 kg (670 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA. Program: Ranger. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Ranger 1-2. Decay Date: 1961-11-20 . USAF Sat Cat: 206 . COSPAR: 1961-A-Theta-1. Apogee: 242 km (150 mi). Perigee: 150 km (90 mi). Inclination: 33.3000 deg. Period: 88.30 min. This was a flight test of the Ranger spacecraft system designed for future lunar and interplanetary missions. The spacecraft was launched into a low earth parking orbit, but an inoperative roll gyro prevented Agena restart resulting in Ranger 2 being stranded in low earth orbit. The orbit decayed and the spacecraft reentered Earth's atmosphere on 20 November 1961.

1962 January 26 - . 20:30 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Agena B. LV Configuration: Atlas Agena B 121D (AA3) / Agena B 6003 (AA3). FAILURE: Agena B second stage guidance system failure. Failed Stage: 2.
  • Ranger 3 - . Payload: NASA P-34 (RA-3). Mass: 327 kg (720 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA. Program: Ranger. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Ranger 3-4-5. USAF Sat Cat: 221 . COSPAR: 1962-Alpha-1. Lunar impact probe; missed the moon by 36,874 km and went into solar orbit. A malfunction in the booster guidance system resulted in excessive spacecraft speed. Reversed command signals caused the telemetry antenna to lose earth acquisition, and mid-course correction was not possible. Some useful data were obtained from the flight. Of four scientific experiments only one was partially completed: gamma-ray readings of the lunar surface. Attempts to relay television pictures of the moon and to bounce radar signals off the moon at close range were unsuccessful.

1962 April 23 - . 20:50 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Agena B. LV Configuration: Atlas Agena B 133D (AA4) / Agena B 6004 (AA4).
  • Ranger 4 - . Mass: 328 kg (723 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA. Program: Ranger. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Ranger 3-4-5. Decay Date: 1962-04-26 . USAF Sat Cat: 280 . COSPAR: 1962-Mu-1. Ranger IV was launched by an Atlas-Agena B booster from the Atlantic Missile Range, attained a parking orbit, and was fired into the proper lunar trajectory by the restart of the Agena B engine. Failure of a timer in the spacecraft payload caused loss of both internal and ground control over the vehicle. The Goldstone Tracking Station maintained contact with the spacecraft until it passed behind the left edge of the moon on April 26. It impacted at a speed of 9,617 km per hour, the first American spacecraft to land on the lunar surface. The Agena B second stage passed to the right of the moon and later went into orbit around the sun. Lunar photography objectives were not achieved.

1962 October 15 - .
  • Ranger 3 showed that gamma-rays greater than expected - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 3-4-5. The analysis of scientific measurements made by the Ranger III lunar probe showed that gamma-ray intensity in interplanetary space was ten times greater than expected, NASA reported. Measurements were taken by gamma-ray spectrometers on Ranger III after it was launched on January 26. NASA scientists, however, did not believe that gamma-ray intensity was "great enough to require any changes in the design of radiation shielding for manned spacecraft."

1962 October 15 - .
  • Five additional Ranger spacecraft to be added - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 6-7-8-9. Summary: NASA announced that five additional Ranger spacecraft would be added to the lunar exploration program, raising the total to 14 to be launched through 1964..

1962 October 18 - . 16:59 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Agena B. LV Configuration: Atlas Agena B 215D (AA7) / Agena B 6005 (AA7).
  • Ranger 5 - . Mass: 340 kg (740 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA. Program: Ranger. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Ranger 3-4-5. USAF Sat Cat: 439 . COSPAR: 1962-B-Eta-1. The Ranger V lunar probe was launched from Atlantic Missile Range by an Atlas-Agena B launch vehicle. The Agena B stage attained parking orbit and 25 minutes later reignited to send Ranger V toward the moon. A malfunction in the Agena B guidance system resulted in excessive spacecraft velocity. The spacecraft's solar cells did not provide power and reversed command signals caused the telemetry antenna to lose earth acquisition. This made reception of the flight-path correction signal impossible and rendering its television cameras useless. Reversed command signals caused the telemetry antenna to lose earth acquisition, and mid-course correction was not possible. The spacecraft missed the Moon by 725 km and went into solar orbit. Gamma-ray data were collected for 4 hours prior to the loss of power. Ranger V was to have relayed television pictures of the lunar surface and rough-landed an instrumented capsule containing a seismometer. The spacecraft was tracked for 8 hours, 44 minutes, before its small reserve battery went dead. Additional Details: here....

1962 December 19 - .
  • Ranger 6 to be used for intensive reliability tests - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 6-7-8-9. NASA announced that Ranger VI would be used for intensive reliability tests. Resultant improvements would be incorporated into subsequent spacecraft (numbers VII-IX), delaying the launchings of those vehicles by "several months." The revised schedule was based on recommendations by a Board of Inquiry headed by Cdr. Albert J. Kelley (USN), Director of Electronics and Control in the NASA Office of Advanced Research and Technology. The Kelley board, appointed by NASA Space Sciences Director Homer E. Newell after the Ranger V flight, consisted of officials from NASA Headquarters, five NASA Centers, and Bellcomm, Inc. The board concluded that increased reliability could be achieved through spacecraft design and construction modifications and by more rigorous testing and checkout.

1963 December 13 - .
  • NASA canceled five Ranger flights - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 6-7-8-9. NASA canceled five Ranger flights (numbers 10 through 14) designed to take high-resolution photographs of the lunar surface before impact. (Five Rangers had thus far been launched.) OSS Associate Administrator Homer E. Newell stated that NASA would depend on the remaining four Rangers, the Lunar Orbiters, and the Surveyors for information about the lunar surface. Cancellation of the flights promised to save $90 million.

1964 January 30 - . 15:49 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Agena B. LV Configuration: Atlas Agena B 199D (AA8) / Agena B 6008 (AA8).
  • Ranger 6 - . Payload: RA-6. Mass: 362 kg (798 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA; JPL. Program: Ranger. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Ranger 6-7-8-9. Decay Date: 1964-02-02 . USAF Sat Cat: 747 . COSPAR: 1964-007A. Impacted Moon but TV camera malfunctioned. A midcourse trajectory correction was accomplished early in the flight by ground control. On February 2, 1964, 65.5 hours after launch, Ranger 6 impacted the Moon on the eastern edge of Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility). No camera data were obtained, probably because of failure due to an arc-over in the TV power system when it inadvertently turned on during the period of booster-engine separation.

1964 July 28 - . 16:50 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Agena B. LV Configuration: Atlas Agena B 250D (AA9) / Agena B 6009 (AA9).
  • Ranger 7 - . Mass: 362 kg (798 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA; JPL. Program: Ranger. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Ranger 6-7-8-9. Decay Date: 1964-07-31 . USAF Sat Cat: 842 . COSPAR: 1964-041A. First successful Ranger; returned 4,308 photos before lunar impact. The Atlas- Agena B inserted the Agena and Ranger into a 192 km altitude Earth parking orbit. Half an hour after launch a second burn of the Agena engine injected the spacecraft into a lunar intercept trajectory. After separation from the Agena, the solar panels were deployed, attitude control activated, and spacecraft transmissions switched from the omniantenna to the high-gain antenna. The next day the planned mid-course maneuver was successfully initiated at 10:27 GMT. The only anomaly during flight was a brief loss of two-way lock on the spacecraft by the DSIF tracking station at Cape Kennedy following launch.

    Ranger 7 reached the Moon on 31 July. The F-channel began its one minute warm up 18 minutes before impact. The first image was taken at 13:08:45 GMT at an altitude of 2110 km. Transmission of 4,308 photographs of excellent quality occurred over the final 17 minutes of flight. The final image taken before impact had a resolution of 0.5 meters. The spacecraft encountered the lunar surface in direct motion along a hyperbolic trajectory, with an incoming asymptotic direction at an angle of -5.57 degrees from the lunar equator. The orbit plane was inclined 26.84 degrees to the lunar equator. After 68.6 hours of flight, Ranger 7 impacted in an area between Mare Nubium and Oceanus Procellarum (subsequently named Mare Cognitum) at approximately 10.35 S latitude, 339.42 E longitude. Impact occurred at 13:25:48.82 GMT at a velocity of 2.62 km/s.


1965 January - .
  • Ranger 7 to locate possible lunar landing sites - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Pickering. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 6-7-8-9. Summary: Dr. William H. Pickering, Director of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, commented on the importance of Ranger VII in locating possible lunar landing sites..

1965 February 17 - . 17:05 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Agena B. LV Configuration: Atlas Agena B 196D (AA13) / Agena B 6006 (AA13).
  • Ranger 8 - . Payload: RA-8. Mass: 366 kg (806 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA; JPL. Program: Ranger. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Ranger 6-7-8-9. Decay Date: 1965-02-20 . USAF Sat Cat: 1086 . COSPAR: 1965-010A. Returned 7137 photos before lunar impact. The Atlas- Agena B booster injected the Agena and Ranger 8 into an Earth parking orbit at 185 km altitude 7 minutes after launch. Fourteen minutes later a 90 second burn of the Agena put the spacecraft into lunar transfer trajectory, and several minutes later the Ranger and Agena separated. The Ranger solar panels were deployed, attitude control activated, and spacecraft transmissions switched from the omni-directional antenna to the high-gain antenna by 21:30 GMT. On 18 February at a distance of 160,000 km from Earth the planned mid-course manoeuvre took place, involving reorientation and a 59 second rocket burn. During the 27 minute manoeuvre, spacecraft transmitter power dropped severely, so that lock was lost on all telemetry channels. This continued intermittently until the rocket burn, at which time power returned to normal. The telemetry dropout had no serious effects on the mission. A planned terminal sequence to point the cameras more in the direction of flight just before reaching the Moon was cancelled to allow the cameras to cover a greater area of the Moon's surface.

    Ranger 8 reached the Moon on 20 February 1965. The first image was taken at 9:34:32 GMT at an altitude of 2510 km. Transmission of 7,137 photographs of good quality occurred over the final 23 minutes of flight. The final image taken before impact has a resolution of 1.5 meters. The spacecraft encountered the lunar surface in a direct hyperbolic trajectory, with incoming asymptotic direction at an angle of -13.6 degrees from the lunar equator. The orbit plane was inclined 16.5 degrees to the lunar equator. After 64.9 hours of flight, impact occurred at 09:57:36.756 GMT on 20 February 1965 in Mare Tranquillitatis at approximately 2.67 degrees N, 24.65 degrees E. Impact velocity was slightly less than 2.68 km/s.


1965 March 5 - .
  • Choice of targets for Ranger spacecraft - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 6-7-8-9. Newton W. Cunningham, NASA's Ranger Program Manager, notified Apollo Program Manager Samuel C. Phillips that the Ranger investigators and Jet Propulsion Laboratory Ranger Project Office had submitted their unanimous choice of targets for the Ranger IX mission. The first two days of the launch windows were omitted from the plan; Day III: Crater Alphonsus; Day IV: Crater Copernicus; Day V: Crater Kepler; Day VI: Crater Aristarchus; Day VII: near Crater Grimaldi.

    NASA's Office of Manned Space Flight agreed with Days IV-VII, but recommended a smooth highland area for Day I, a highland basin area for Day II, and the Flammarion highland basin for Day III.


1965 March 21 - . 21:37 GMT - . Launch Site: Cape Canaveral. Launch Complex: Cape Canaveral LC12. LV Family: Atlas. Launch Vehicle: Atlas Agena B. LV Configuration: Atlas Agena B 204D (AA14) / Agena B 6007 (AA14).
  • Ranger 9 - . Payload: RA-9. Mass: 366 kg (806 lb). Nation: USA. Agency: NASA; JPL. Program: Ranger. Class: Moon. Type: Lunar probe. Spacecraft: Ranger 6-7-8-9. Decay Date: 1965-03-24 . USAF Sat Cat: 1294 . COSPAR: 1965-023A. Ranger 9, last of the series, returned 5814 images before lunar impact. The target was Alphonsus, a large crater about 12 degrees south of the lunar equator. The probe was timed to arrive when lighting conditions would be at their best. The Atlas- Agena B booster injected the Agena and Ranger 9 into an Earth parking orbit at 185 km altitude. A 90 second Agena 2nd burn put the spacecraft into lunar transfer trajectory. This was followed by the separation of the Agena and Ranger. The initial trajectory was highly accurate; uncorrected, the craft would have landed only 650 km north of Alphonsus. 70 minutes after launch the command was given to deploy solar panels, activate attitude control, and switch from the omni-directional antenna to the high-gain antenna. The accuracy of the initial trajectory enabled delay of the planned mid-course correction from 22 March to 23 March when the manoeuvre was initiated at 12:03 GMT. After orientation, a 31 second rocket burn at 12:30 GMT, and reorientation, the manoeuvre was completed at 13:30 GMT. Ranger 9 reached the Moon on 24 March 1965. At 13:31 GMT a terminal manoeuvre was executed to orient the spacecraft so the cameras were more in line with the flight direction to improve the resolution of the pictures. Twenty minutes before impact the one-minute camera system warm-up began. The first image was taken at 13:49:41 at an altitude of 2363 km. Transmission of 5,814 good contrast photographs was made during the final 19 minutes of flight. The final image taken before impact has a resolution of 0.3 meters. The spacecraft encountered the lunar surface with an incoming asymptotic direction at an angle of -5.6 degrees from the lunar equator. The orbit plane was inclined 15.6 degrees to the lunar equator. After 64.5 hours of flight, impact occurred at 14:08:19.994 GMT at approximately 12.83 S latitude, 357.63 E longitude in the crater Alphonsus. Impact velocity was 2.67 km/s. Millions of Americans followed the spacecraft's descent via real time television coverage provided to the three networks of many of the F-channel images (primarily camera B but also some camera A pictures) were provided for this flight.

    The pictures showed the rim and floor of the crater in fine detail: in those just prior to impact, objects less than a foot in size were discernible.

    A panel of scientists presented some preliminary conclusions from Ranger IX at a press conference that same afternoon. Crater rims and ridges inside the walls, they believed, were harder and smoother than the moon's dusty plains, and therefore were considered likely sites for future manned landings. Generally, the panel was dubious about landing on crater floors however. Apparently, the floors were solidified volcanic material incapable of supporting a spacecraft. Investigators believed several types of craters were seen that were of nonmeteoric origin. These findings reinforced arguments that the moon at one time had experienced volcanic activity. Later the images were shown to the press as a continuous-motion movie, leading astronaut Wally Schirra to yell ‘bail out you fool!’ just before the final frame.


1965 March 22 - .
  • Ranger 6 fixed DSIF station locations - . Nation: USA. Program: Ranger. Spacecraft: Ranger 6-7-8-9. Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists W. L. Sjogren and D. W. Trask reported that as a result of Ranger VI and Ranger VII tracking data, Deep Space Instrumentation Facility station locations could be determined to within 10 m (10.9 yds) in the radial direction normal to the earth's spin axis. Differences in the longitude between stations could be calculated to within 20 m (21.9 yds). The moon's radius had been found to be 3 km (l.86 mi) less than was thought, and knowledge of its mass had been improved by an order of magnitude.

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