NASA to start shutting down legendary Voyager space probes launched 45 years ago

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The Voyager probes were launched into space almost 45 years ago, one of them visited Jupiter and Saturn, while the other, in addition to passing through those two planets, also reached Uranus and Neptune. They have become the first spacecraft to enter interstellar space, and thus the first objects created on Earth to travel that far. But this exciting adventure, which has given us so many discoveries, is close to coming to an end, as explained by Scientific American.

These spacecraft are powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which, roughly, obtains energy from the natural decomposition of radioactive material. However, this old system loses about 4 watts a year of energy, which has forced NASA to take certain measures to extend the useful life of the missions as much as possible. These measures translate into turn off the instruments little by little.

Doing our best to extend a legendary quest

US space agency engineers have already turned off some scientific measurement equipment in the past to optimize power consumption. In 2019 they turned off the heater for the cosmic ray subsystem (CRS) on Voyager 2, a feature that protected this part of the ship from the very low temperatures of space. Surprisingly, the instrument demonstrated unique resistance and continued to function, despite falling to a cold of -59 degrees Celsius.

instruments 3

These types of changes, and any others that require sending commands, such as when Voyager 1’s thrusters had to be activated after 37 years of inactivity, are extremely complex due to the distance between the ships. Sending messages between Earth and Voyager 1 takes almost 22 hours and some 18 in the case of Voyager 2communications that are managed through the antennas that make up NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Voyager 2: what we know about interstellar space thanks to the data it still sends us after more than 40 years of travel

Thus, through this communications link, the US agency will try to optimize the energy consumption of the legendary probes to the maximum so that they can remain operational until around 2030. At this time, Voyager 2 has five instruments in operation, and the Voyager 1 has four, but they will be gradually shutting down, being one of the last to stop working on magnetometerwhose main job has been to measure changes in the Sun’s magnetic field to determine if each of the outer planets had a magnetic field.

Voyager 3

For now, an exact date on which the probes will stop working has not been revealed, but as we mentioned above, if all goes well, they could continue their mission for several more years. And when the time comes to say goodbye, we will no longer be able to communicate with them, but these ships will continue to travel to the ends of space and carry with them the golden records with sounds of the Earth, greetings in several languages, images, music, and even A message from US President Jimmy Carter.

As a tribute, for the great number of years at the service of science (and for all those who still remain), we share here below some of the most outstanding images of these missions. We begin with a capture of the day Voyager 1 was launched aboard a Titan IIIE rocket in September 1977. We continue with an image of the Earth and the Moon captured by the same probe. And we turn to a picture of Saturn’s rings from Voyager 2, and a view of Neptune from the same spacecraft in 1989.

Voyager 1 launch

Earth Moon Voyager

Saturn Rings 1

Neptune Voyager 2

Pictures | POT

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The Voyager probes were launched into space almost 45 years ago, one of them visited Jupiter and Saturn, while the…

The Voyager probes were launched into space almost 45 years ago, one of them visited Jupiter and Saturn, while the…

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