The identical Voyager spacecraft are three-axis stabilized systems that use celestial or gyro referenced attitude control to maintain pointing of the High Gain Antennas toward Earth. The prime mission science payload consisted of 10 instruments (11 investigations including radio science).
Only five investigator teams are still supported, though data are collected for two additional instruments.
The Flight Data Subsystem (FDS) and a single eight-track digital tape recorder (DTR) provide the data handling functions. The FDS configures each instrument and controls instrument operations. It also collects engineering and science data and formats the data for transmission. The DTR is used to record high-rate Plasma Wave Subsystem (PWS) data. Data are played back every six months.
The computer command subsystem (CCS) provides sequencing and control functions. The CCS contains fixed routines such as command decoding and fault detection and corrective routines, antenna pointing information, and spacecraft sequencing information.
The Attitude and Articulation Control Subsystem (AACS) controls spacecraft orientation, maintains the pointing of the High Gain Antenna towards Earth, controls attitude maneuvers, and positions the scan platform.
Uplink communications is via S band (16-bit/s command rate) while an X band transmitter provides downlink telemetry at 160 bit/s normally and 1.4 kbit/s for playback of high-rate plasma wave data. All data are transmitted from and received at the spacecraft via the 3.7-meter high-gain antenna (HGA).
Electrical power is supplied by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). The current power levels are about 315 W for each spacecraft. As the electrical power decreases, power loads on the spacecraft must be turned off in order to avoid having demand exceed supply. As loads are turned off, some spacecraft capabilities are eliminated.
To date, the entire Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 scan platform, including all of the platform instruments, has been powered down. The UVS on Voyager 1 was on until 2003, when it too was powered down. Gyro operations will end in 2010 for Voyager 2 and 2011 for Voyager 1. Gyro operations are used to rotate the probe 360 degrees 6 times a year. This is used to measure the magnetic field of the spacecraft, which is then subtracted from the magnetometer science data.
The two Voyager spacecraft continue to operate, with some loss in subsystem redundancy, but still capable of returning science data from a full complement of VIM science instruments. Both spacecraft also have adequate electrical power and attitude control propellant to continue operating until around 2020 when the available electrical power will no longer support science instrument operation. At this time science data return and spacecraft operations will end.
The radioisotope thermoelectric generators are powered by plutonium, and provided approximately 470 W of 30-volt DC when the spacecraft was launched. Plutonium-238 decays with a radioactive half-life of approximately 85 years, so RTGs using it lose a factor of or ca. 0.81% of the power per year. 23 years after launch, such an RTG would produce only 470 W × 0.991923 ~= 390 W — or roughly 83% — of the initial power. However, the bi-metallic thermocouples used to convert thermal energy into electrical energy degrade as well; at the beginning of 2001, the power generated by Voyager 1 had dropped to 315 W and to 319 W for Voyager 2, so the thermocouples work at about 80%. Both of these power levels represent better performance than the pre-launch predictions, which included a conservative degradation model for the thermocouples.
- Voyager 1 for mission details
- Voyager 2 for mission details
- a fictional account of an alien intelligence finding the spacecraft
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