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Voyager 1&2 - The Discoveries, Instruments and Innovation

Updated on February 21, 2014

Interesting Facts About the Voyager Probes

  1. Over 91728000 hours of labor was required to create both the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes. That equates to over 10,000 work years.
  2. In total, over 130,000 individual parts and pieces needed to be manufactured to build both probes.
  3. Each probe has been designed with fuel efficiency in mind. At launch the weight of a single probe was over 700 ton. Most of this weight was due to fuel mass. Even with the excessive weight, by the time voyager 2 reached Neptune it had a fuel consumption ratio of 13,000 km per liter.
  4. Voyager 1 and 2 are able to target there science instruments with an accuracy of 1/10th of a degree.
  5. Each probe has a tape recorder with identical recordings on a gold plated disc. The tapeheads on each recorder will last for at least 33 years. The distance the tapeheads would have traveled along the tape by that time would be over 3000 miles.

The Voyager Program

To go where no human or machine has ever gone before. Make discoveries that no one could ever have dreamed of. Push the boundaries of our understanding of the universe... This is the Voyager 1 and 2 program

For as long humans have been able to think, we have questioned. For as long as we have questioned, we have sought an accurate answer. This is human nature.

The Voyager programs primary mission was to be the first craft to visit and explore Jupiter and Saturn.

After continued successful discoveries with the programs primary mission, a second objective, too good to pass up is accepted - Visit Uranus and Neptune.

The first and only craft to visit these planets and not just attain quality pictures, but mountains of scientific data.

These planets, that anyone on earth could see through a high powered telescope, are now right in front of us and in depth detail.

After visiting these planets the mission objective is to then propel itself into interstellar space.

Why, you ask.

Our Sun doesn't only generate heat to keep our planet warm. It also produces a massive magnetic barrier and strong solar wind that protects us and our planet against radiation from space, interstellar wind, plasma, ionized gases and many other rays from dying stars, all present in interstellar space.

The hard work and determination from all the engineers from JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) in Pasadena California seen such a mission, and like Captain Kirk, "Made it so".

Until recently, scientists could only imagine what lies ahead for human explorers as they travel beyond the protection which is generated by our sun. Thanks to the Voyager 1 and 2 programs, we now can get an answer and know what is required when we prepare to send humans for exploration.

Voyager... The name says it all!

What Voyager Looks Like

An artists drawing of what the Voyager probe looks like with its instruments extended.
An artists drawing of what the Voyager probe looks like with its instruments extended.

The Challenges Designing the Voyager Probes

A major challenge had been set forth to the engineers and project planners at JPL back in 1977 - Design and make 2 probes (in case 1 fails) that will not only eject themselves into interstellar space, but also make close encounters with other bodies and planets of interest along the way.

A whole list of issues had to be addressed by the scientists and engineers at JPL. The first issue was what instruments should be aboard such a vessel.

There was no way to guess what either probe might be able to see along the way, so more than just a single camera would be needed.

Since the overall mission plan was to enter interstellar space, and visit other locations, a particular flight path was needed. The best option was to use the natural pull of gravity from the planets they visited to gain speed so fuel was only required to fix trajectory along the probes paths.

To power all this machinery you can't rely on the sun. Nuclear power is essential taking into consideration that the goal of the mission is to enter the space between planets (interstellar space).

The main problem was that a lot of the scientific recording instruments wouldn't last as long as the probes themselves would. Not to mention all that machinery has to operate in the cold vacuum of space.

Imagine the major problem engineers had building 2 probes, when the window of opportunity to do this venture was very short-lived. This kind of alignment of the planets takes a long time to occur so everything had to run exactly to schedule.

Where Voyager Was...

This is an artist perception of the probes locations 12 years after launch.
This is an artist perception of the probes locations 12 years after launch.

Where Voyager Is...

Now Voyager has successfully left the "bubble" and entered interstellar space, we can better understand the effects of the environment.
Now Voyager has successfully left the "bubble" and entered interstellar space, we can better understand the effects of the environment.

Voyagers Destination

To reach the ultimate goal of interstellar space, both probes have to endure termination shock, the heliosheath, heliopause, bow shock and cope with interstellar winds.

Heliopause is the definite boundary of the heliospere. This is where the Solar wind has completely been stopped by the interstellar medium.

The heliosheath is the area between the termination shock and heliopause. This is where the opposing effect from the Solar wind degrades significantly. Much slower than termination shock.

Termination shock is the point where the influence from Solar wind starts to slow down. Much the same if water was run in one direction and meets with an opposing current of water.

As the 2 separate flows collide, they begin to push each other away. As one pushes into they other they begin to intertwine with each other for a moment. That exact point could be considered as the termination shock.

You can see an entire heliosphere happening in your any kitchen sink.

Move the faucet close to one corner of the sink and turn the tap on. You will notice that as the flow of water hits the edge of the basin, it turns and comes back to follow down the drain.

A bubble is made, where the water falls out the faucet and onto the bottom of the basin. Here it is relatively free from the effects that are happening around it. That point can be considered as the location of the Sun and that is what has created the heliosphere. This is the bubble in which our Solar System resides.

Scientific Research Equipment on Voyager

Voyagers Scientific Instruments

All Equipment
Ultraviolet Spectrometer
Narrow Angle Camera
Wide Angle Camera
Plasma Sensor
Cosmic Ray Sensor
Infrared Interferometer Spectrometer
Planetary Radio and Plasma Wave Antennae
Low Energy Charged particle Sensor

The Instruments

Both Voyager probes have a vast armament of scientific analysis equipment on board. Each of which has its own valuable set of data to send back to JPL.

Voyager uses the DSN (Deep Space Network). Due to conflicts with other missions, only 16 hours of information is able to be sent back to Earth from each probe.

The ultraviolet spectrometer is located near the narrow and wide angle cameras. This is a meter that is sensitive to ultraviolet light. Its primary use is to interpret what atoms and ions are present as well as the physical processes happening around the probes.

The narrow and wide angle cameras are enhanced versions of the previous models used aboard the Mariner flights. There are 2 cameras on voyager, each with its own set of 8 interchanging filters on the Voyager probe.

A particular plasma sensor has been installed that is used to locate the lowest energy particles in a plasma stream.

The CRS (Cosmic Ray Subsystem) scans for the most energetic particles in plasma. This is the most sensitive of all the particle sensors on the probes and it is unique. Rather than attempting to contain a particle, this subsystem will let the particles pass right through it. This system can then identify the remnants from the collision.

Voyagers photopolarimeter system uses polarized filters to show the physical attributes of particulate matter. This is done by analyzing linear polarization and scattered sunlight between the wavelengths of 2350-7500A.

Voyagers infrared interferometer spectrometer and radiometer are a sophisticated piece of technical brilliance. They're 3 separate devices in one.

The first is its capability to see what elements and compounds are on the surface of a planet and in its atmosphere.

Its second device is its advanced thermometer. It can distinguish the heat that emits from planets, bodies and substances

The third is its radiometer. It functions to determine the amount of sunlight that reflects from a body.

The planetary radio astronomy and plasma wave antennae are used to survey the plasma and low frequency wavelengths in the magnetospheres of the outer planets in our solar system.

The magnetometer is used to measure the the suns magnetic field as distance increases as well as the magnetic fields of planets and moons.

The Discoveries

The amount of places that these 2 probes have been and the amount of significant scientific data that these probes have supplied to NASA, is immeasurable.

Whether its geysers erupting on moons and planets, or evidence of oceans, Voyager continues to amaze everyone with its feats.

A small list of notable discoveries are listed below.

The first spacecraft to endure termination shock and return valuable data in regard to is experience.

A thick, deep smoggy airspace filled with nitrogen on titan.

The famous dark spot of Neptune and its ferocious 1,600 km/h winds

The incredibly active atmosphere of Jupiter with several hurricanes combining to make massive complex storm systems.

Active Volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io.

The discovery of a possible ocean under Europa. One of Jupiter's moons.

A broad ring from the moon Io that comprises of oxygen and sulfur and helps to extend Jupiter's giant magnetic field.

The Voyager Probes Road To Discovery


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