NASA will begin shutting down legendary Voyager spacecraft launched 45 years ago

News hardware NASA will begin shutting down legendary Voyager spacecraft 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 taking a well-deserved retirement. We owe them some of the greatest discoveries in space history, 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 robot exploration program from NASA (the US space agency), whose main purpose was to study the planets outside the solar system. . And we do not know if it was the release of the Buzz Lightyear movie that made NASA step out of its usual reserve, but NASA had some announcements for us about the two most famous probes in space history.

Launched on August 20 and September 5, 1977, respectivelyin the wake of and euphoria of the Apollo 11 to 17 lunar programs, The main purpose of the Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 probes was to fly over Jupiter and Saturn and should not exist for more than 4 to 5 years.. 45 years later, they are still there, completing hundreds of missions, sending us thousands of images, but they are starting to fall, and NASA is now considering giving them their freedom.

NASA will begin shutting down legendary Voyager spacecraft launched 45 years ago

If Voyager 2 is the first to have marked the spirits by visiting Uranus (1986), then Neptune (1989), the larger star of the two, will undoubtedly remain Voyager 1, which far exceeded all expectations by also being able to to “travel” much further than intended, and which to this day is the only unit in history that has been able to reach an area full of mystery called the heliosphere, the area of ​​space where the energy density of the solar wind is greater than that in interstellar medium (
Larousse
).

NASA will begin shutting down legendary Voyager spacecraft launched 45 years ago

NASA hopes to be able to communicate with Voyager probes until 2030

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

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

NASA will begin shutting down legendary Voyager spacecraft launched 45 years ago

In 2019, for example, NASA engineers had to turn off the heating of the cosmic ray subsystem, which was thought at the time that Voyager 2 would not recover, but in the end, even at temperatures of -59 ° C, it manages fantastically .

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

NASA will begin shutting down legendary Voyager spacecraft launched 45 years agoNASA will begin shutting down legendary Voyager spacecraft launched 45 years ago

It is therefore with a heavy heart, but filled with happiness over 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 back. in service (4 for Voyager 1 and 5 for Voyager 2) and the US space agency promises to do everything to get the most out 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, en route to Red Mars. To infinity and beyond !

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