NASA is allegedly going to turn off the Voyager spacecraft. This is not true

The world media write about the imminent end of the mission of the famous Voyager vehicles, which explored the giant planets of the solar system and went beyond it into interstellar space. Allegedly, NASA plans to turn off their power this year. RTVI figured out whether the most distant messengers of humanity will soon turn into useless pieces of iron, and remembered the most interesting achievements of the mission.

Voyager 1 came out beyond the heliopause, the conditional boundary of the solar system, in 2012. He became the first man-made object that ended up in interstellar space. Voyager 2 followed it out of the solar system in 2018.

Now both devices have moved away from the Earth by more than 12 and 14.5 billion kilometers. The signal from Voyager 2 takes 18 hours to Earth, from Voyager 1 – 22 hours.

However, the devices cannot remain in working order indefinitely, and this year NASA plans to turn off some of the systems operating on board, wrote Scientific American edition.

“We are 44.5 years old. So we are 10 times over the warranty period for this thing,” explained Ralph McNutt, a physicist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.


On board Voyager 2 there were 5 working devices, on board Voyager 1 – only four. All of them are powered by RTGs – devices that convert the heat of radioactive plutonium into electricity, but the power of the converters drops by 4 watts annually.

An article in Scientific American was the reason for many publications that NASA is allegedly ready to complete the mission of both devices this year. However, this is not the case, Igor Lisov, a columnist for the Novosti kosmonavtiki magazine and an expert in the field of space, believes.

“In fact, everything is going according to plan – as they predicted a decrease in power to 200 watts for 2031, so it will be. 200 W is a power below which no scientific device can operate, now this power is slightly higher – about 220 W, and decreases by about 4 W per year, the RTVI expert explained. – There is no catastrophe at the moment, nothing serious is being undertaken at the moment. There is a schedule for the gradual shutdown of service systems, which has long been prescribed in the onboard program. The plasma-wave system and the magnetometer will work last, since they do not require separate heaters and consume very little themselves.

“This is truly the greatest project of all times and peoples. The most interesting thing in it, of course, is not Jupiter and not Saturn, which the Americans and Europeans have already explored since then, and not even Uranus and Neptune, which, if a world nightmare does not happen, they will also get to. The most interesting thing is going beyond the heliosphere and the first direct measurements in interstellar space,” the expert added.

What are Voyagers famous for?

The Voyager -1,2 spacecraft launched by NASA in 1975 have become one of the most famous and successful projects related to the exploration of outer space by mankind.

Part of the mission’s success is due to Caltech student Gary Flandro. In 1965, just 4 years after the flight of Yuri Gagarin, Flandro received an order from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to calculate the most efficient trajectory from which a device launched from Earth could reach at least Jupiter, and at a maximum – Saturn, Uranus or Neptune.

Using a pencil, the student estimated the orbital motion of the giant planets and came to an unexpected conclusion: in the late 70s and early 80s, these four planets will line up.

But the main thing is Flandro showedthat a device launched at the right time, flying past each of the planets, can apply the so-called gravitational maneuver, gaining additional speed. Using such maneuvers, the flight time to Neptune could be reduced from 30 to 12 years. And since these planetary alignments happen once every 176 years, it was necessary to act quickly and launch the mission in the mid-1970s.

NASA decided to take the opportunity to send two absolutely identical vehicles two weeks apart in the summer of 1977.

Using gravitational maneuvers on other planets in those years was a novelty – by that time only a single device – Mariner 10 – had performed such a “trick” near the orbit of Venus on its way to Mercury. In addition, concerns were raised by the passage of vehicles through the main asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter – scientists doubted whether the probes could fly through it without colliding with asteroids and without being “torn to pieces.”

However, the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft launched earlier flew through it unscathed, relieving NASA’s fears.

The instrumentation of the Voyager vehicles was made according to the latest technology of those years. “Voyager computers have less memory than the key fob that you use to open your car doors,” recalls Linda Spilker of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a member of the mission since 1977.

Today, 45 years after launch, the vehicles have become the most distant man-made objects from Earth and still send scientific data to Earth every day. Scientists consider this an excellent result, given that they were originally estimated to have a lifespan of only four years. Voyager 1 reached Jupiter in March 1979, the second apparatus, moving along a different trajectory, in July of the same year.

JPL-Caltech / NASA

The devices made a splash in the scientific community, sending high-quality images of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, which were found active volcanoes and cracked ice fields. Today, thanks to probe cameras, we know that Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system: its largest volcano, Pele, throws ash to a height 30 times higher than Everest.

In total, the devices took over 33 thousand images of Jupiter and its satellites. Rings were first discovered near the planet itself, and an ice crust 100 km thick was discovered on the surface of Europa.

On the way to Saturn, the devices separated – the first “dived” into the rings of the planet, “feeling” the impacts of large particles on itself, flew past the moon of Titan, and then flew out of the plane of the planets of the solar system.

Great Dark Spot on Neptune
JPL-Caltech / NASA

In 1986, Voyager 2 became the first spacecraft to fly near Uranus, finding 10 new satellites, and three years later, past Neptune. On this planet, the device recorded the most powerful winds in the solar system – blowing at a speed of 1700 km / h.

Neptune’s moon Triton is the coldest place in the solar system, with a temperature of -235 degrees Celsius. At the same time, it turned out that volcanoes on its surface emit nitrogen and solid particles to a height of up to 8 kilometers.

The images of Neptune would have been the last photographs taken by both spacecraft were it not for astrophysicist Carl Sagan, who was part of the team of scientists taking images from the probes. He convinced NASA officials to take the last set of images with Voyager 1. So, in 1990, on Valentine’s Day, this probe took the most famous picture of the planet Earth – the so-called “pale blue dot” from a record distance of 5.9 billion kilometers.

Pavel Kotlyar

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