NASA’s Voyager 1, Voyager 2 spacecraft may soon be powered down after 44 years in service. They are deep in space, where no manmade object has ever reached.
NASA is planning to power down its Voyager spacecraft after a long 44 years of service. Both the Voyager 1, Voyager 2 spacecraft have travelled farther than any man-made object has ever done before and are remarkably still working sending back precious data to NASA from their position billions of kilometers away in deep space from Earth. But now, it could be entering its final phase. However, far from being killed off, the spacecraft will be gradually powered down and the intent is to make them last at least till 2030.
Launched way back in 1977 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Voyager 2 took advantage of a rare alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune for interstellar travel. It was launched before Voyager 1. Both the spacecraft were launched to study the outer planets in our solar system as well as to travel into uncharted space.
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The Voyager spacecraft was designed to last 5 years but it has stood the test of time and weathered the effects of space and remains in service. Both the Voyager spacecrafts are functioning adequately despite escaping heliopause, a hot plasma bubble at the edge of our solar system.
NASA physicist Ralph McNutt said, “We’re at 44 and a half years, so we’ve done 10 times the warranty on the darn things.” He was speaking to Scientific American.
The Voyager spacecraft is powered by Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs) which use the heat from decaying plutonium spheres to power the spacecraft. According to NASA, the power output is decreasing at a rate of four watts per year.
That means that systems aboard the Voyager spacecrafts are shutting down. Voyager 1 has only four instruments left that are currently functioning while Voyager 2 has five left. Soon, both spacecraft will shut down and forever be lost into space.
NASA estimates that the plutonium will cross the decay limit by 2025 and the spacecraft will stop functioning permanently. Both of the Voyager spacecrafts have far exceeded the expectations of scientists to remain functioning as long as they have.
Talking to the Scientific American, Linda Spilker, a NASA JPL scientist who worked on the Voyager mission said, “If everything goes really well, maybe we can get the missions extended into the 2030s. It just depends on the power. That’s the limiting point.”