The spacecraft was of the Ranger Block 1 design and consisted of a hexagonal base 1.5 m across upon which was mounted a cone-shaped 4 m high tower of aluminum struts and braces. Two solar panel wings measuring 5.2 m from tip to tip extended from the base. A high-gain directional dish antenna was attached to the bottom of the base. Spacecraft experiments and other equipment were mounted on the base and tower. Instruments aboard the spacecraft included a Lyman-alpha telescope, a rubidium-vapor[?] magnetometer, electrostatic analyzers, medium-energy range particle detectors, two triple coincidence telescopes, a cosmic-ray integrating ionization chamber[?], cosmic dust detectors, and solar X-ray scintillation counters.
The communications system included the high gain antenna and an omni-directional medium gain antenna and two transmitters, one at 960.1-mhz with 0.25 W power output and the other at 960.05-mhz with 3 W power output. Power was to be furnished by 8680 solar cells on the two panels, a 57 kg silver-zinc battery, and smaller batteries on some of the experiments. Attitude control was provided by a solid-state timing controller, Sun and Earth sensors, and pitch and roll jets. The temperature was controlled passively by gold plating, white paint, and polished aluminum surfaces.
The Ranger 1 spacecraft was designed to go into an Earth parking orbit and then into a 60,000 x 1,100,000 km Earth orbit to test systems and strategies for future lunar missions. Ranger 1 was launched into the Earth parking orbit as planned, but the Agena B failed to restart to put it into the higher trajectory, so when Ranger 1 separated from the Agena stage it went into a low Earth orbit and began tumbling. The satellite re-entered Earth's atmosphere on August 30, 1961. Ranger 1 was partially successful, much of the primary objective of flight testing the equipment was accomplished but little scientific data was returned.
Total research, development, launch, and support costs for the Ranger series of spacecraft (Rangers 1 through 9) was approximately $170 million.