NASA’s Voyager 1 Spacecraft Operating at Coldest Temperature Ever

Voyager Spacecraft Traveling Through Space

An artist’s concept shows the Voyager spacecraft traveling through space against a field of stars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In hope that NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft will be able to transmit data through 2025, NASA has decided they need to further reduce its power consumption. By turning off another heater, they hope to make this possible without jeopardizing the ultraviolet spectrometer. Over the last 17 years, several heaters have been turned off, dropping the temperature below the originally designed minimum operating temperature of minus 35 degrees Celsius (minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit). Currently the operating temperature is slightly below minus 79 degrees Celsius (minus 110 degrees Fahrenheit), the coldest this spectrometer has ever endured, but it continues to collect and return data.

In order to reduce power consumption, mission managers have turned off a heater on part of NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, dropping the temperature of its ultraviolet spectrometer instrument more than 23 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit). It is now operating at a temperature below minus 79 degrees Celsius, the coldest temperature that the instrument has ever endured. This heater shut-off is a step in the careful management of the diminishing electrical power so that the Voyager spacecraft can continue to collect and transmit data through 2025.

At the moment, the spectrometer continues to collect and return data. It was originally designed to operate at temperatures as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius, but it has continued to operate in ever chillier temperatures as heaters around it have been turned off over the last 17 years. It was not known if the spectrometer would continue working, but since 2005, it has been operating at minus 56 degrees Celsius (minus 69 degrees Fahrenheit). So engineers are encouraged that the instrument has continued to operate, even after the nearby heater was turned off in December. (The spectrometer is likely operating at a temperature somewhat lower than minus 79 degrees Celsius, but the temperature detector does not go any lower.)

Scientists and mission managers will continue to monitor the spectrometer’s performance. It was very active during Voyager 1’s encounters with Jupiter and Saturn, and since then an international team led by scientists in France has been analyzing the spectrometer’s data.

This latest heater shut-off was actually part of the nearby infrared spectrometer, which itself has not been operational on Voyager 1 since 1998.

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