Probably the most awesome peice of hardware out there is still out there, and still doing it’s job. The Voyager 2 space probe is powered, and happily sailing along deeper and deeper into outer space.
To this day, NASA employs staff to send command instructions and to receive scientific and telemetry data that Voyager is still sending.
Voyager II was launched on August 20, 1977 to explore Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, then to continue in interstellar space. After having visited Pluto in 1989, every planet in the Solar system has been visited at least once.
Voyager Weekly reports of the activities are available from NASA. Items include details such as how much electricity and propellant are still available, and also telemetry information, like how far away from earth, how fast it’s travelling and how long a signal takes to reach it. Here’s an example from this week:
- Distance from the Sun (Km) 12,788,000,000
- Distance from the Earth (Km) 12,814,000,000
- Velocity Relative to Earth (Km/sec) 23.150
- Generator Output (Watts) 284.2
- Voyager 2 command operations consisted of the uplink of seven bracketed Command Loss Timer Resets sent on five-minute centers using 0.5 Hz steps on 03/26 [DOY 086/2007z]. The spacecraft received three of the seven commands sent.
- There were 53.6 hours of DSN scheduled support for Voyager 2 of which 1.2 hours were large aperture coverage. There were no real-time or schedule support changes made or significant outages during the period.
- Science instrument performance was nominal for all activities during this period. The EDR backlog is 2 day.
Isn’t it incredible how far away Voyager 2 is ? Even at the speed of light, round trip time for radio communications is almost 24 hours. Can you imagine sending a simple instruction to Voyager 2 and not expecting a response until tommorow at this time? Insane! Nowadays, the signal is travelling so far and is so distorted that only half of the commands are ever understand and responded to.
A fantastic document about Voyager 2 with a fun flip-page animation!
Print out all 178 pages (duplex if you can) and you will have an awesome document for reading! The flip-page animation is in the lower left corner and looks like this:
I found this document hunting around the NASA web page. It was written in 1985 about the January 1986 fly-by of Uranus. True history was made with Voyager, because very little was known about Neptune at the time. For example, the guide mentions “one of the five presently known moons of Uranus”, however, after Voyager flew by we now know of 27.
To summarise, simply from telemetry ( reducing Voyager to a simple talking projectile ), we are learning so much about our galaxy and the reach of our Sun. For more information check out this article on the Heliopause, the boundry that seperates our solar system from interstellar space. Thanks Voyager. I know you’ll be out there for a millennial’s worth of human generations.
This document makes a great nighttime reader. Print out a copy. Here’s the index so you know what to expect. Forgive the spaces, but OCR can only do so much.:
2 . Uranus
Overview of t h e Planet
The Atmosphere of Uranus
The Magnetosphere of Uranus
The Satellites of Uranus
The Rings of Uranus
3 . Getting The Job Done
4 . Scientific Objectives
Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS)
Infrared Interferometer Spectrometer and Radiometer (IRIS)
Ultraviolet Spectrometer (UVS)
Photopolarimeter Subsystem (PPS)
Radio Science Subsystem (RSS)
Fields and Particles Experiments
Planetary Radio Astronomy (PRA)
Plasma Subsystem (PLS)
Low-Energy Charged Particle (LECP)
Cosmic Ray Subsystem (CRS)
Plasma Wave Subsystem (PWS)
Sensor Engineering Characteristics
The Physics of the Optical Target Instruments
5 . Voyager Spacecraft
The High Gain Antenna
Spacecraft Attitude Control
Spacecraft Power Subsystem
Digital Tape Recorder
The Spacecraft Receiver
The Computer Command Subsystem
The Flight Data Subsystem
The Science Instruments
6. Mission Highlights
Pre-Encounter Test and Calibration Activities
Observatory Phase (OB)
Far Encounter Phase (FE)
Critical Late Activities
Near Encounter Phase (NE)
Post Encounter Phase (PE)
Cruise to Neptune
7 . What’s New
Maintaining a Strong Signal
Discarding Unnecessary P i c t u r e Data
More Accuracy for Fewer B i t s
Taking Good Pictures in Feeble Light Levels
Big Changes in t h e Deep Space Network
The Bottom Line
8. Gee-whiz Facts
9 . How Far and How Fast
The Great Escape
Voyager 2 a t Uranus
Key Events. Distances. and Speeds
10 . Jupiter and Saturn Highlights
Jupiter’ s Rings
Jupiter ‘ s Moons
Jupiter ‘ s Magnetosphere
Saturn ‘ s Rings
Saturn’ s Moons
Saturn’ s Magnetosphere