General Question

talljasperman's avatar

If we were to redo the Voyager space probes with modern technology then what would be the difference?

Asked by talljasperman (21858points) April 27th, 2015

Better camera. Better power supply. Better… what else can be improved?

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20 Answers

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Everything would be better except for the power supply. The original probes were basically nuclear powered. Can’t really get away with launching radioactive materials these days.

dabbler's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me , the Mars Curiosity rover has a plutonium isotope power supply.
It’s pretty rare these days for NASA to use a nuclear power source (they got the plutonium from Russia for some reason) and there were some mild protests about it, but this one does give this rover a lot of capability that the solar-powered Spirit and Opportunity rovers never could have had.

But, yeah, cameras! I’d put a variety of cameras on a new probe like that.
I’d also put an onboard laboratory to analyse space dust and sensors to measure solar plasma.

Better and maybe more powerful radio equipment could be added to give the new craft even longer range than Voyager, although it’s unclear if there is much interesting way beyond the photosphere, it’s interesting just find that out.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The Voyager transmission link is basically a 5 Watt CB radio. I do not know the latest downlink speed but at one point it was only 10 bits per second. Incredibly slow. Ignoring the 4 hours it takes for the signal to travel, an uncompressed 1 MB photo would take 100,000 seconds, ~3 hours to download. Fortunately most of the background is black so high compression can be used.
If I had the chance to retro fit it I’d install a higher frequency radio with a more directional antenna and outfit it with a modified version of Joseph H Taylor’s WSJT weak signal software. We’d be able to talk with Voyager for another century (or two).

Darth_Algar's avatar

‘I Stuck Her With My Wang’, by ICP, would be included on the golden record.

ragingloli's avatar

It definitely needs a nuclear power supply.
An RTG is the only thing currently available that can power a space probe for that amount of time.
Remember, at the distance of even Pluto (not a planet, btw), the sun is almost indistinguishable from any other star, so solar power is useless at that distance and beyond.
Apart from that, it would have better sensors, communications and electronics, and the golden record would be a golden bluray disc.
Or several golden bluray discs, enabling the probe to carry an amount of information several magnitudes greater than that of the original.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I actually like the golden record, any reasonably advanced civilization could play it. no need to engineer a sophisticated playback device. I would also 1 up on the high frequency by simulcast in in multiple bands as well as launch several radio repeater probes at timed intervals after the initial launch.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me

Agreed. I don’t even see how something like a blu-ray disc would survive the environment of space anyway.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me I like the idea of repeaters. We could have one channel on all future probes available for repeating. That is almost free. If we have planetary probes going around Jupiter or Saturn or wherever, the long distance probe can be aimed toward the closest one with the highest available data rate. Otherwise we default to the 5 Watt 10meter rig and a ground dish the size of Rhode Island.

Breaker breaker one nine, This here’s the Rubber Duck you got a copy on me Pig Pen C’mon?
Uh yeah Ten-Four Pig Pen fer sure fer sure.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I wonder if we are doing it now with current probes. Surely someone has thought of this.
Cb is 11 meters ;
Another upgrade would be to use real hardened flash memory instead of the 8 track magnetic tape drive it uses to store and playback data. The more I read about it the more it looks like we sent smoky and the bandit into space.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me Note, I said ”like a CB”. ;-)
The recent Mars probe had a channel open and available for amateurs to use. NASA wanted to see how far enthusiasts could reach. The answer? 12,000,000 miles. How’s that for a QSO?

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@LuckyGuy I wonder how long that ham will have to wait before the qsl card comes in the mail?

Darth_Algar's avatar

I’m almost surprised that there are still people using CB and Ham radio.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Give it 15 years…gone.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Anyone who made contact got a QSL card . They cleverly broadcasted a code that the ham had to identify in order to prove contact. Every code was unique. Very well done.

I’m not so sure it will disappear so quickly. We still walk, though cars are available. We still use pencils and pens. I predict there will be an extremely technical cadre of individuals using the spectrum to do things we cannot yet imagine. The air waves offer four advantages over the internet: they are free, exclusive, offer a bit of anonymity and they work in times of disaster.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

True, digital radios have been the big talk on 2m here locally. I don’t talk much myself, I like building antennas and stuff. I don’t see many youngsters though, just the old codgers. That’s where the 15 year mark comes in for me. They’ll mostly be gone by then. Once that happens we’ll see if the bands don’t get taken over and sold off. CB will still be around, the rock crawler crowd still use them heavily.

Darth_Algar's avatar

I have a bit of nostalgia for ham and CB radio (my grandfather did a bit of both, and my parents used CB until it because the radio equivalent of 4-chan). Part of me has a bit of an interest (especially ham), but I just don’t have enough inclination to invest the time or money into it.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

You can get set up with a license and a dual band radio for about 60 bucks

LuckyGuy's avatar

Who wants to yak with a bunch of old farts? :-) Ragchewing has been replaced with data transmitting. Imagine a drone with a trailing antenna tuned at 80 meters – world wide control capability from your shack or living room! Imagine secure data transfers. Imagine EME communication using algos like WSJT. Pow! Your broadcast can cover half the world.
In the stone age, crystals, single vacuum tubes and transistors were the building blocks. Now the blocks are complete modules for the price of a single IC. Put a few together and you can make magic.
There will always be schmart nerds sitting home alone on a Saturday night tinkering with their toys.
“Hey… I wonder how many times I can loop the earth with this pulse. Wow! Twice!” Almost as good as sex.

5 out of the 6 people working for me have A. Extra class licenses.. I didn’t select them because of that. Rather they had the skills I needed because of it.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@ARE_you_kidding_me

As I said – I just don’t have enough inclination.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Darth_Algar You mean my comment above didn’t result in a touch of tumescence? I can assure you hardcore (lonely) engineers sure got some.
Think of the geeks on Big Bang. In the real world they all would have amateur radio licenses. They just wouldn’t admit it to their friends. An Extra Class license has never been considered a babe magnet. However the money they earn is.

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