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

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

Nearly 50 years after the official launch of the project and 45 years after the launch of the two probes into space, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are about to take a well-deserved retirement. We owe them some of the greatest discoveries in the history of aerospace and NASA has decided to pay tribute to them by letting them go slowly, but surely.

Voyager program, to infinity and beyond

On July 1, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the official launch of the “Voyager” program, the famous robotic exploration program of NASA (the American space agency) whose main objective was to study the planets outside the solar system. . And we don’t know if it was the release of the Buzz Lightyear movie that prompted NASA to step out of its usual reserve, but NASA had some announcements for us regarding the two most famous probes in the history of aerospace.

Launched respectively on August 20 and September 5, 1977in the aftermath and euphoria of the Apollo 11 to 17 lunar programs, the Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 probes had as their main objective to fly over Jupiter and Saturn and were not supposed to exist for more than 4 to 5 years. 45 years later, they are still there, have completed hundreds of missions, sent us thousands of photos, but they are starting to decline and NASA is now thinking of giving them their freedom.

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

If Voyager 2 is the first to have marked the spirits by going to visit Uranus (1986) then Neptune (1989), the biggest star of the two will undoubtedly remain Voyager 1 which went well beyond all expectations by being also capable of “traveling” much further than intended and which remains to this day the only device in history to have been able to reach an area filled with mystery called the heliosphere, that region of space in which the density of energy of the solar wind is greater than that of the interstellar medium (
Larousse
).

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

NASA hopes to communicate with Voyager probes until 2030

How did we come to use devices in space for nearly 50 years when they were originally designed to operate for 4 to 5 years?

To understand it well, it is necessary to know that these spacecraft are powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) that generates electricity from heat from the natural decay of radioactive materials. However, while the system has been working like a charm for so many years, the probes lose about 4 watts of power every year, and NASA has already had to turn off and restrict certain elements to maximize their lifespan.

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

In 2019, for example, NASA engineers had to turn off the heating of the cosmic ray subsystem, it was thought then that Voyager 2 would not recover, but in the end, even in temperatures of -59°C, this one is doing great.

NASA also highlights the great complexity of communication with the probes, as when it was necessary to restart the thrusters of Voyager 1 in 2017 after 37 years of inactivity… Knowing that transmission of a message can take up to… 22 hours between Earth and Voyager 1 and 18 hours with Voyager 2. Not easy in these conditions to be reactive…

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

It is therefore with a heavy heart, but filled with happiness by all that they have been able to bring us, that NASA has decided to gradually stop the operation of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Currently, there are only a few instruments left. still in service (4 for Voyager 1 and 5 for Voyager 2) and the American space agency promises to do everything to make the most of it, but it should not be able to go beyond 2030.

The next step for NASA is the return of flights to the Moon and then, perhaps, heading to Red Mars. To infinity and beyond !

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