Q:

How do space probes work?

A:

Space probes carry instruments into space to make measurements that cannot be made on Earth. Temperature, spectrum, magnetic fields and radiation comprise just a few of the types of phenomena measured. Space probes ride atop a rocket and then separate and set a course based on instructions from Earth-based operators and pre-programmed instructions on board. On arrival, the instruments start taking measurements and transmitting them back to Earth.

Space probes typically carry an instrument package based on the mission, communication equipment to transmit the data and a guidance system. On-board power comes from batteries or fuel cells for short missions, solar panels for researching the inner planets or a small nuclear reactor for travel to the outer planets. Once launched, space probes travel to their destination on their own momentum. In some cases, a gravitational slingshot can help accelerate the probe by using the attractive force of another body, such as a moon, to pull the probe toward its destination.

On arrival, space probes can fly by their destination, making observations as they travel, go into orbit or descend to the surface. Sometimes, a probe orbits for a period of time and then, as its mission ends, it crashes into the planet, transmitting data until it is destroyed.

Because they are unmanned, space probes have some real advantages. They can measure data in very hostile environments, such as the hot surface of Venus or the methane lakes on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. They can make very long voyages without critical life support resources, such as oxygen, water and food.

Early space probes launched in the 1950s took measurements around the Earth and moon. In the early 1960s, space probes explored Venus and Mars, giving Earth observers their first real data about these planets. Space probes to the large outer planets, launched in the 1970s, made a number of significant discoveries. Voyager 1, launched in 1977, first explored Jupiter and Saturn, and then was guided to explore deep space. It still transmits data as it travels beyond the solar system. In the 1980s, new space probes orbited the outer planets and their moons for extended study, sending back thousands of pictures along with other physical data for analysis.


Is this answer helpful?

Similar Questions

  • Q:

    How do astronauts communicate in space?

    A:

    According to Universe Today, astronauts use radio waves to communicate with Earth and between craft in space. While these waves travel at the speed of light, the long distances involved can induce delays in conversation between Earth and astronauts on long-distance missions.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    How many probes have been sent to Neptune?

    A:

    As of 2014, no probes have been sent to Neptune. The only spacecraft to fly near to the planet was Voyager 2, which passed it in 1989.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    Has anyone ever been lost in space?

    A:

    According to LiveScience, as of 2014, 18 astronauts have died during launches or re-entry from space, but none have been lost outside of the Earth's atmosphere. Additionally, three astronauts died in the Apollo 1 fire while testing the Apollo spacecraft on the ground.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:
  • Q:

    Why do astronauts go to space?

    A:

    According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, astronauts are sent into space to operate the International Space Station, help develop commercial spaceflight, investigate the possibilities of human exploration of deep space, develop new technologies and conduct research in a wide range of scientific fields. Many aspects of scientific studies of the Earth and the rest of the universe are easier to conduct from space.

    Full Answer >
    Filed Under:

Explore