Changes are being made by NASA to keep 42-year-old Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts flying around in space.

By Ian Horswill

Posted on July 9, 2019

NASA spacecrafts Voyager 1 and 2 have been flying around in space for nearly 42 years, which is longer than any other spacecraft in history.

Voyager 2 was launched on August 20, 1977, 16 days before Voyager 1. Voyager 2 went on a trajectory that took longer to reach Jupiter and Saturn but enabled encounters with Uranus and Neptune. It is the only spacecraft to have visited these two giant ice planets.

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Voyager 1 left earth on September 5, 1977. It is the most distant man-made object from Earth.

NASA today said a new plan to manage the spacecrafts’ future is being implemented.

“One key issue is that both Voyagers have less and less power available over time to run their science instruments and the heaters that keep them warm in the coldness of deep space. Engineers have had to decide what parts get power and what parts have to be turned off on both spacecraft. But those decisions must be made sooner for Voyager 2 than Voyager 1 because Voyager 2 has one more science instrument collecting data — and drawing power — than its sibling,” NASA said in a statement.

A cosmic ray subsystem instrument on Voyager 2 has had its heater turned off to save power but is still sending through data at -59C, a temperature below which it was tested at. Unused thrusters are also being used later this month to ensure the spacecraft’s antenna remains pointed at Earth.

“It’s incredible that Voyagers’ instruments have proved so hardy,” said Voyager Project Manager Suzanne Dodd, who is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We’re proud they’ve withstood the test of time. The long lifetimes of the spacecraft mean we’re dealing with scenarios we never thought we’d encounter. We will continue to explore every option we have in order to keep the Voyagers doing the best science possible.”

NASA believes both Voytagers will continue to collect and send data “for several years”.

Voyager 1 was launched 16 days after Voyager 2 and is still sending data daily to NASA. Photo NASA
Voyager 1 was launched 16 days after Voyager 2 and is still sending data daily to NASA. Photo NASA

“Both Voyager probes are exploring regions never before visited, so every day is a day of discovery,” said Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone, who is based at Caltech. “Voyager is going to keep surprising us with new insights about deep space.”

The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.