Radio observatory records signals from Voyager satellite launched almost 45 years ago

Jimmy2x

Posts: 142   +11
Staff
Why it matters: Since 2007, The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) has provided researchers with the ability to collect astronomical data and search for signs of extraterrestrial life. Earlier this year, the array recorded 15 minutes of data from Voyager I, the space probe launched in 1977 to explore the furthest reaches of our solar system and beyond. The detection marks the observatory's successful detection and communication with the farthest earth-based object in space.

No specific information was provided about the signal's data, which is transmitted back at a scorching 160 bits per second using NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN). The probe is currently 14.5 billion miles from Earth and is now tasked with taking measurements beyond the edge of the heliosphere. Despite having already far outlived its estimated useful life, the probe will continue its extended mission in interstellar space until fuel supply is depleted. Researchers estimate the probe's reserves will last until sometime in 2025.

The probe is still returning data from interstellar space at a blazing 160 bits per second

Currently managed by Menlo Park's SRI International, the ATA was originally developed by the Search for Extraterrestrial Life (SETI) Institute and the UC Berkeley Radio Astronomy Lab (RAL). The facility was originally supported thanks to more than $30 million in donations from former Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Additional funding was later provided by Qualcomm's co-founder and Chief Scientist Franklin Antonio, paving the way for the array's completion.

The facility, located at the Hat Creek Radio Observatory, is comprised of 42 individual radio antennas measuring 6m in diameter. This large-number small-diameter approach allows the facility to cover the same collection area as traditional large dish antenna at a reduced cost, albeit with reduced sensitivity.

Researchers make up for this lack of sensitivity by combining the signals collected from the multiple smaller telescopes. The Voyager 1 signal was detected using 20 of the array's 42 available dishes.

Launched in 1977 to collect and transmit from distant space, the Voyager 1 and 2 probes were the centerpieces of NASA's Voyager Program. The probes explored some of the largest planets in our solar system and conducted successful flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune as well as a total of 48 different moons.

Each of the probes was provided with a golden record designed to communicate information about our planet to any extraterrestrials "lucky" enough to find them. Contents include 115 images recorded in analog form, sounds of nature and our civilization, music, and greetings in 55 different spoken languages.

But what happens if an extraterrestrial traveler left home without their trusty turntable? Don't worry, the record's cover provides information designed to communicate how the record can be played and how the binary number-based information was encoded.

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Endymio

Posts: 1,838   +1,909
The probe is still returning data from interstellar space at a blazing 160 bits per second...
That's faster than the first modem I ever used ... 110 baud, IIRC.

How many Mars missions have gone offline? They don't make 'em like they used to.
The Spirit and Opportunity rovers both died early deaths because they were solar-powered. The Voyager probes had RTGs ... "nuclear batteries", but countless protests over their use in space led NASA to equip many other missions with solar panels instead -- a decent choice for earth-orbit or heliocentric missions, but astoundingly poor at longer distances from the sun.
 
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VitalyT

Posts: 6,405   +7,208
Much ado about nothing. So it is just outside our solar system, and what valuable information has it gathered from there? Nothing, actually. Thanks for the update, will check back in the next 45 years.
 

Lew Zealand

Posts: 2,253   +2,807
TechSpot Elite
Much ado about nothing. So it is just outside our solar system, and what valuable information has it gathered from there? Nothing, actually. Thanks for the update, will check back in the next 45 years.

Wrong.

The Voyagers are still the only spacecraft to directly assess and detect the edge of the heliosphere, the heliopause, by the fact of being there with the proper instruments.
 

doolybird

Posts: 6   +10
That's faster than the first modem I ever used ... 110 baud, IIRC.

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers both died early deaths because they were solar-powered. The Voyager probes had RTGs ... "nuclear batteries", but countless protests over their use in space led NASA to equip many other missions with solar panels instead -- a decent choice for earth-orbit or heliocentric missions, but astoundingly poor at longer distances from the sun.
Umm the Spirit and Opportunity rovers both exceeded their design lives (3 months) by an extreme degree. 6 years for Spirit and an amazing almost 15yrs for Opportunity. But agreed Solar usefulness dwindles once we get to Jupiter plus distances...
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 8,266   +7,619
Umm the Spirit and Opportunity rovers both exceeded their design lives (3 months) by an extreme degree. 6 years for Spirit and an amazing almost 15yrs for Opportunity. But agreed Solar usefulness dwindles once we get to Jupiter plus distances...
Yes, some people fail to grasp that those rovers have gone far beyond their anticipated lifetimes, and that NASA has launched nuclear powered craft when appropriate despite concerns from the less well educated about the stability of the nuclear fuel package.
 

ScottSoapbox

Posts: 423   +786
Very cool.

In the 70s the brightest minds in the country worked for NASA.

(Today NASA can do little more than hire the bright minds at private companies to do the heavy lifting.)
 

texasrattler

Posts: 1,344   +644
Much ado about nothing. So it is just outside our solar system, and what valuable information has it gathered from there? Nothing, actually. Thanks for the update, will check back in the next 45 years.
Nothing, how do you know there was nothing gathered? If you think NASA or any government agency is going to tell the public anything or be truthful if they were to find life, keep on dreaming.
We have some of best satellites in the world that can look down at a grain of sand but can't see what's flying in the skies above. I don't think so.
Info may come out one day but our government will likely just be confirming it like what they did with UFO videos the last few years. If they had it there way, nothing would have ever been released.
 

Endymio

Posts: 1,838   +1,909
Umm the Spirit and Opportunity rovers both exceeded their design lives (3 months) by an extreme degree.
The only reason their design lifetime was set to such an absurdly low figure in the first place was that engineers believed the solar panels would quickly become obscured by dust. And that is, in fact, what did in both missions. Had they been given nuclear RTGs instead, both very well may still have been operating today.
 

Lew Zealand

Posts: 2,253   +2,807
TechSpot Elite
The only reason their design lifetime was set to such an absurdly low figure in the first place was that engineers believed the solar panels would quickly become obscured by dust. And that is, in fact, what did in both missions. Had they been given nuclear RTGs instead, both very well may still have been operating today.

Remember that NASA hadn't yet proven their rover designs were worthy of the very high cost of one RTG in a rover, much less two. And even landing on Mars successfully was hit and miss for years. They'd only landed one rover a few years earlier, which roved a very short distance but was a proof-of-concept success. The long-term successes of Spirit and Oppy led NASA to spend the real money on RTGs in their following rovers and landers.
 

doolybird

Posts: 6   +10
The only reason their design lifetime was set to such an absurdly low figure in the first place was that engineers believed the solar panels would quickly become obscured by dust. And that is, in fact, what did in both missions. Had they been given nuclear RTGs instead, both very well may still have been operating today.
Yup it was a horribly pessimistic initial estimate on operating longevity due to dust worries (as you stated)...but geez nearly 15yrs for good ole Oppy is awesome (with a fair bit of luck) regardless of power source. I was quite emotional when I read the news that they finally had lost contact with it 2018....like Ill be when they finally lose contact with the Voyager spacecraft...Ill be raising a glass to it and Carl Sagan and the team from the late 70s
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 9,327   +8,524
Rather sad that so many don't realize the significance of this accomplishment. A good comparison is that of the Apollo computers and those of today. The basic smart phone has 100+ times the functionality and all digital. The movie Apollo 13 gives a very accurate example of what they had to work with ... almost to the point that this next generation may have so much data it will boggle the mind.
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 8,266   +7,619
Very cool.

In the 70s the brightest minds in the country worked for NASA.

(Today NASA can do little more than hire the bright minds at private companies to do the heavy lifting.)
NASA has always hired private contractors. Rocketdyne (a private company) developed the F1 engine for the Saturn V in 1955. IMO, here's an interesting read that includes details about how variants of the design were considered for the SLS - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocketdyne_F-1

However, NASA has had, and does have, some of the brightest minds working for it. Here's a list just from the Kennedy Space Center alone - https://www.nasa.gov/centers/kennedy/about/biographies/bio-current.html
Remember that NASA hadn't yet proven their rover designs were worthy of the very high cost of one RTG in a rover, much less two. And even landing on Mars successfully was hit and miss for years. They'd only landed one rover a few years earlier, which roved a very short distance but was a proof-of-concept success. The long-term successes of Spirit and Oppy led NASA to spend the real money on RTGs in their following rovers and landers.
NASA does science with its spacevehicle designs?? OMG! But, but, but, environmentalists are evil and are preventing NASA from cost effectively achieving its goals. ;) 🤣