NASA Logo, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive Header

Voyager 2



Voyager 2 was one of a pair of spacecraft launched to explore the planets of the outer solar system and the interplanetary environment. Each Voyager had as its major objectives at each planet to: (1) investigate the circulation, dynamics, structure, and composition of the planet's atmosphere; (2) characterize the morphology, geology, and physical state of the satellites of the planet; (3) provide improved values for the mass, size, and shape of the planet, its satellites, and any rings; and, (4) determine the magnetic field structure and characterize the composition and distribution of energetic trapped particles and plasma therein.

Spacecraft and Subsystems

Each Voyager consisted of a decahedral bus, 47 cm in height and 1.78 m across from flat to flat. A 3.66 m diameter parabolic high-gain antenna was mounted on top of the bus. The major portion of the science instruments were mounted on a science boom extending out some 2.5 m from the spacecraft. At the end of the science boom was a steerable scan platform on which were mounted the imaging and spectroscopic remote sensing instruments. Also mounted at various distances along the science boom were the plasma and charged particle detectors. The magnetometers were located along a separate boom extending 13 m on the side opposite the science boom. A third boom, extending down and away from the science instruments, held the spacecraft's radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). Two 10 m whip antennas (used for the plasma wave and planetary radio astronomy investigations) also extended from the spacecraft, each perpendicular to the other. The spacecraft was three-axis spin stabilized to enable long integration times and selective viewing for the instruments mounted on the scan platform.

Power was provided to the spacecraft systems and instruments through the use of three radioisotope thermoelectric generators. The RTGs were assembled in tandem on a deployable boom hinged on an outrigger arrangement of struts attached to the basic structure. Each RTG unit, contained in a beryllium outer case, was 40.6 cm in diameter, 50.8 cm in length, and weighed 39 kg. The RTGs used a radioactive source (Plutonium-238 in the form of plutonium oxide, or PuO2, in this case) which, as it decayed, gave off heat. A bi-metallic thermoelectric device was used to convert the heat to electric power for the spacecraft. The total output of RTGs slowly decreases with time as the radioactive material is expended. Therefore, although the initial output of the RTGs on Voyager was approximately 470 W of 30 V DC power at launch, it had fallen off to approximately 335 W by the beginning of 1997 (about 19.5 years post-launch). As power continues to decrease, power loads on the spacecraft must also decrease. Current estimates (1998) are that increasingly limited instrument operations can be carried out at least until 2020.

Communications were provided through the high-gain antenna with a low-gain antenna for backup. The high-gain antenna supported both X-band and S-band downlink telemetry. Voyager was the first spacecraft to utilize X-band as the primary telemetry link frequency. Data could be stored for later transmission to Earth through the use of an on-board digital tape recorder.

Voyager, because of its distance from Earth and the resulting time-lag for commanding, was designed to operate in a highly-autonomous manner. In order to do this and carry out the complex sequences of spacecraft motions and instrument operations, three interconnected on-board computers were utilized. The Computer Command Subsystem (CCS) was responsible for storing commanding for the other two computers and issuing the commands at set times. The Attitude and Articulation Control Subsystem (AACS) was responsible for controlling spacecraft attitude and motions of the scan platform. The Flight Data Subsystem (FDS) controlled the instruments, including changes in configuration (state) or telemetry rates. All three computers had redundant components to ensure continued operations. The AACS included redundant star trackers and Sun sensors as well.

Message in a Bottle

Each Voyager has mounted to one of the sides of the bus a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk. The disk has recorded on it sounds and images of Earth designed to portray the diversity of life and culture on the planet. Each disk is encased in a protective aluminum jacket along with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions explaining from where the spacecraft originated and how to play the disk are engraved onto the jacket. Electroplated onto a 2 cm area on the cover is also an ultra-pure source of uranium-238 (with a radioactivity of about 0.26 nanocuries and a half-life of 4.51 billion years), allowing the determination of the elapsed time since launch by measuring the amount of daughter elements to remaining U238. The 115 images on the disk were encoded in analog form. The sound selections (including greetings in 55 languages, 35 sounds, natural and man-made, and portions of 27 musical pieces) are designed for playback at 1000 rpm. The Voyagers were not the first spacecraft designed with such messages to the future. Pioneers 10 and 11, LAGEOS, and the Apollo landers also included plaques with a similar intent, though not quite so ambitious.

Mission Profile

Originally planned as a Grand Tour of the outer planets, including dual launches to Jupiter, Saturn, and Pluto in 1976-77 and dual launches to Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune in 1979, budgetary constraints caused a dramatic rescoping of the project to two spacecraft, each of which would go to only Jupiter and Saturn. The new mission was called Mariner Jupiter/Saturn, or MJS. It was subsequently renamed Voyager about six months prior to launch. The rescoped mission was estimated to cost $250 million (through the end of Saturn operations), only a third of what the Grand Tour design would have cost.

Voyager 2 was the first of the two spacecraft to be launched, with liftoff occurring 20 Aug. 1977. What was at first an auspicious launch, however, proved to be the beginning of a number of problems. The primary cause of the initial problems were attributed to commanding by the AACS, including difficulty in determining the full deployment of the science boom. These problems resulted in a delay of four days in the launch of Voyager 1 to ensure they wouldn't occur for it.

Although launched sixteen days after Voyager 2, Voyager 1's trajectory was the quicker one to Jupiter. On 15 Dec. 1977, while both spacecraft were in the asteroid belt, Voyager 1 surpassed Voyager 2's distance from the Sun.

Several months after launch, in April 1978, Voyager 2's primary radio receiver failed, automatically kicking in the backup receiver which proved to be faulty. Attempts to recover the use of the primary receiver failed and the backup receiver was used for the remainder of the mission. Although use of the backup receiver made communication with the spacecraft more difficult, engineers were able to find workarounds.

Voyager 2 proceeded with its primary mission and flew by Jupiter (closest approach on 09 July 1979) and Saturn (26 August 1981). During these flybys, Voyager 2 obtained images roughly equal in number to Voyager 1 (18,000 at Jupiter, 16,000 at Saturn).

Voyager 2's launch date had preserved one part of the original Grand Tour design, i.e. the possibility of an extended mission to Uranus and Neptune. Despite the difficulties encountered, scientists and engineers had been able to make Voyager enormously successful. As a result, approval was granted to extend the mission, first to Uranus, then to Neptune and later to continue observations well past Neptune. Voyager 2 made successful flybys of Uranus (24 January 1986) and Neptune (25 August 1989). Because of the additional distance of these two planets, adaptations had to made to accomodate the lower light levels and decreased communications. Voyager 2 was successfully able to obtain about 8,000 images of Uranus and its satellites. Additional improvements in the on-board software and use of image compression techniques allowed about 10,000 images of Neptune and its satellites to be taken.

All of the experiments on Voyager 2 have produced useful data.

Onward and Outward

Rechristened the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM) by NASA in 1989 after its encounter with Neptune, Voyager 2 continues operations, taking measurements of the interplanetary magnetic field, plasma, and charged particle environment while searching for the heliopause (the distance at which the solar wind becomes subsumed by the more general interstellar wind). Through the end of the Neptune phase of the Voyager project, a total of $875 million had been expended for the construction, launch, and operations of both Voyager spacecraft. An additional $30 million was allocated for the first two years of VIM.

Voyager 2 is speeding away from the Sun at a velocity of about 3.13 AU/year toward a point in the sky of RA=338 degrees, Dec=-62 degrees (-47.46 degrees ecliptic latitude, 310.89 degrees ecliptic longitude).

Alternate Names

  • 10271
  • MJS 77B
  • Mariner 77B
  • Mariner Jupiter/Saturn B
  • Outer Planets B
  • Voyager2
  • urn:nasa:pds:context:instrument_host:spacecraft.vg2

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 1977-08-20
Launch Vehicle: Titan IIIE-Centaur
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 721.9 kg
Nominal Power: 420 W

Funding Agency

  • NASA-Office of Space Science Applications (United States)


  • Planetary Science
  • Space Physics
  • Astronomy

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. Edwin V. Bell, II



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Ms. Ann C. MerwarthProgram ManagerNASA Headquarters
Prof. Edward C. Stone, Jr.Project ScientistCalifornia Institute of
Dr. William E. BrunkProgram ScientistNASA Headquarters
Mr. Ed B. MasseyProject ManagerNASA Jet Propulsion

Selected References

  • Stone, E. C., How Voyager 2 has been reprogrammed, Nature, 292, No. 5825, 675-676, Aug. 1981.
  • Stone, E. C., Voyager mission: Encounters with Saturn, J. Geophys. Res., 88, No. A11, 8639-8642, doi:10.1029/JA088iA11p08639, Nov. 1983.
  • Stone, E. C., and E. D. Miner, The Voyager encounter with Neptune, J. Geophys. Res., 96, Suppl., 18903-18906, doi:10.1029/91JA02174, Oct. 1991.
  • Stone, E. C., The Voyager 2 encounter with Uranus, J. Geophys. Res., 92, No. A13, 14873-14876, doi:10.1029/JA092iA13p14873, Dec. 1987.
  • Stone, E. C., The Voyager mission through the Jupiter encounters, J. Geophys. Res., 86, No. A10, 8123-8124, doi:10.1029/JA086iA10p08123, Sept. 1981.
  • Kohlhase, C. E., and P. A. Penzo, Voyager mission description, Space Sci. Rev., 21, No. 2, 77-101, doi:10.1007/BF00200846, Nov. 1977.

Other Voyager Information/Data at NSSDCA

NSSDCA Voyager page

Data available on-line

View selected images from the NSSDCA Photo Gallery taken by Voyager 1/2 of:

Data coverage charts for on-line, interplanetary datasets at NSSDCA, PDS, and experiment team sites for Voyager 1 and Voyager 2

Related Information/Data at NSSDCA


Other Sources of Voyager Information/Data

Voyager project page (NASA JPL)

Cosmic Ray Subsystem (CRS) (NASA GSFC)
Low-Energy Charged Particle (LECP) (JHU/APL)
Magnetometer (MAG) (NASA GSFC)
Plasma Science (PLS) (MIT)
Plasma Wave System (PWS) (U. of Iowa)

[] NASA Logo -