October 5, 2022

After 45 years in space, the Voyager sensors are just starting to blast off

After 45 years in space, the Voyager sensors are just starting to blast off

Where the Voyager probes drove, others will follow. A panel to determine the nation’s science priorities for the next 10 years is considering a $3.1 billion proposal for an interstellar probe (IP) that could reach the current location of Voyagers in less than 15 years. If approved in 2024, the probe could be launched by 2036.

Ralph McNutt, who heads up space science at the Johns Hopkins Laboratory of Applied Physics in Laurel, Maryland, has worked on Voyager missions throughout his career. He witnessed the launch of Voyager 1 in September 1977, and is now the IP project lead.

“We can reach a speed of twice as fast as Voyager 1, and reach twice the distance before the interstellar probe runs out of power,” he said.

The newer probe will be more capable than the Voyagers, which are built using 45-year-old technology, and project planners now have a much better idea of ​​what’s possible and what to expect in flight.

The main transmitter on the new probe and its instruments, including magnetometers and spectrometers, will be several times more powerful than their 1977 counterparts. The IP could also visit some mysterious objects Kuiper belt objects The outer reaches of the solar system, which are believed to be the origins of some comets, McNutt said.

The Voyager 1 spacecraft approached Jupiter in January and February 1979, snapping hundreds of images of Jupiter as it approached, including this close-up of the clouds wrapped around Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.NASA/JPL
Photo: Voyager 2
Three images from Voyager 2, taken through ultraviolet, violet, and green filters, were combined to make this image.NASA/JPL

Until the interstellar probe receives the green light, Voyagers will be the most important representatives of humanity in interstellar space. In about 40,000 years, Voyager 1 will get relatively close to another star In the constellation Camelopardalis, while Voyager 2 is approaching a star in the constellation Andromeda on its way to the giant star Sirius, which it will reach in about 300,000 years.

Long before then – in less than 10 years – the Voyager probe will be completely out of power, Spilker said. Each probe is powered by plutonium batteries, but they are already starting to weaken, and every few months NASA engineers order the probes to shut down a few onboard systems. They hope to be able to get enough power out of the batteries so that some of the gadgets can keep working, at least until the 50th anniversary of the twins’ launch in 2027.

Then who knows?

“Fingers crossed, if all goes as planned, we can get to 2030,” she said.

When they finally run out of power, the Voyager probes will act as “silent ambassadors” to the stars, Spilker said. Each probe carries a gold-printed record of the sounds on Earth, including a baby’s cry, a whale’s song, the music of Mozart and Chuck Berry, and greetings in 55 different languages.

“Maybe another civilization finds them, and you want to know more about Earth,” said Spilker.