How long can Voyager 1 last

Voyager spacecraft The Voyager space probes in interstellar space

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No other space probe has so far penetrated so far into space as the two space veterans Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. The two probes have been crossing interstellar space for several years.

Status: February 19, 2021

Voyager 2 left the heliosphere, the area of ​​magnetic fields around the sun, on November 5, 2018. The probe is now almost 19 billion kilometers from Earth, but can still communicate with the researchers. However, each transfer of information takes over 17 hours.

Voyager 2 looks into "truly unexplored territory"

Only Voyager 1 has come as far as Voyager 2 so far. Voyager 1 is now over 14 billion kilometers from Earth. If a radio signal were sent to the probe on Earth now, it would take over 21 hours for Voyager 1 to receive it. The so-called Plasma Science Experiment (PLS) still works with Voyager 2. The measurements of the instrument now enabled an "unprecedented view into truly unexplored area," said the head of the responsible NASA department, Nicky Fox. At Voyager 1, the PLS instrument had already failed in 1980, long before the probe reached the limit of the heliosphere in 2012.

Still in the solar system

According to NASA, the fact that the two probes have left the heliosphere does not mean that they have also left the solar system. This will not happen "soon" either. The boundary of the solar system is a region outside of the Oort cloud. It will take around 300 years for Voyager 2 to reach the Oort cloud. It will probably take another 30,000 years until it reaches its outer end. Even so, they are already providing data that no other probes can collect. Voyager 1 and 2, for example, tell researchers what shape the heliopause has, i.e. the boundary between the heliosphere and interstellar space.

More than forty years on the road

The Voyager probes are underway in interstellar space.

Actually, the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 missions were only scheduled for four years. Now they have been on the road more than ten times as long and are still sending data cheerfully. Voyager 2 launched on August 20, 1977 from the Cape Canaveral spaceport. The sister probe Voyager 1 followed on September 5, 1977.

Each Voyager probe holds its own record

Voyager 1 is the furthest from Earth of all space probes that humanity has sent into space. It takes more than 21 hours for Voyager 1 to receive radio signals on Earth. In 2012, it was the first spacecraft ever to leave the heliosphere. Voyager 2 didn't do that until 2018. Because of its earlier launch, it is considered to be the longest continuously operated spacecraft.

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Voyager is leaving our solar system

With Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune

Voyager's view of Jupiter

Both probes had a rendezvous with Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager 2 also visited Uranus and Neptune. The Voyager twins, each weighing one ton, examined a total of 48 moons. Voyager 1 and 2 have now made it into interstellar space.

Voyager probes took pictures of all the outer planets

Planet Neptune captured by Voyager 2

The original aim of the Voyager mission was to explore the large gas planets. Voyager 1 visited the planet Jupiter on March 5, 1979 and Saturn on November 11, 1980. The space probe sent the first detailed images of its moons to Earth. Voyager 2 passed the planet Jupiter on July 9, 1979 and Saturn on August 25, 1981. On January 24, 1986, the space probe flew past Uranus and on August 25, 1989, Neptune, with a distance of just under 5,000 kilometers. To date, it is the only probe that has ever come close to the blue gas giant Neptune. The pictures Voyager 2 took of Neptune still shape our image of him.

Researchers were enthusiastic about the images and data that the two probes radioed back to Earth. To date, only a few probes have penetrated this far into the depths of the solar system, most recently the Pluto New Horizons mission.

"Few missions can ever match the accomplishments of the Voyager probes. They taught us about the previously unknown wonders of the universe and inspired humanity to discover our solar system and everything beyond."

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA manager

Strong Voyager retirees - even on earth

The Voyager probes are particularly robust and equipped with backup systems. They are operated with long-life plutonium generators. Even so, their strength dwindles year after year. In the event of technical problems, decades-old documents or even retired NASA engineers must be consulted. "The technology is many generations old and it takes someone with design experience from the 1970s to understand how the probes work and what updates can be made so they can continue to work today and in the future," says NASA manager Suzanne Dodd.

NASA suspects that some of the scientific instruments could still be on board until 2030. But even after they fail, the Voyager twins' journey doesn't have to end. If nothing else happens to them, they will whiz through space at a speed of around 48,000 kilometers per hour.

Gold record for aliens

If the Voyager probes should ever encounter life, they are well prepared. Both probes transport a gold record entitled "Sounds of Earth". The gold-plated copper disks, which supposedly have a lifespan of 500 million years, contain image and audio files about the earth including instructions on how to play them. "Friends of space, how are you. Have you already eaten? Visit us when you have time," was a greeting on the plate in the East Chinese language Amoy. Interested aliens can listen to a total of 55 different languages ​​on "Sounds of Earth". For example, the German embassy reads "Greetings to all". In addition, various noises and a selection of music are stored on the record, ranging from Chuck Berry and Louis Armstrong to Melanesian panpipes to Mozart and Beethoven.

"Since the probes could last billions of years, these data carrier time capsules could one day be the only remaining trace of humanity."

NASA

  • Voyager 2 spacecraft has been broadcasting from deep space for 40 years: August 20, 2017, From Science and Technology, B5 aktuell.
  • The Voyager probe has been flying through space for 40 years: August 19, 2017, orange, Bavaria 2.
  • Space retiree Voyager: October 25, 2015, From Science and Technology, B5 aktuell.
  • Spacecowboys - NASA retirees for the Voyager probes: October 21, 2015, IQ, Bavaria 2.
  • Voyager - Who Takes Care of Old Probes?: September 5, 2012, IQ, Bavaria 2.