The Spacecraft Voyager 2 is Still Collecting Data

NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft were first launched separately weeks apart in 1977, never imagined they would remain flying and continue collecting valuable data even with some instruments turned off to conserve power. Yet these “elder citizens” continue collecting invaluable information even today!

They embarked on an epic tour of the outer planets, discovering volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and studying Saturn’s rings. Additionally, they carried with them a golden record filled with greetings and science information for any future civilization who may come upon it.

Getting There

Voyager probes are so far away from home that commands take 22.5 hours to reach them and 45 hours for them to receive a reply, forcing engineers to be particularly mindful with every command they send them. As a result, engineers must ensure every command they send reaches its intended recipient and gets a positive reply in return.

These twin spacecraft are on a mission to investigate the outer Solar System and interstellar space beyond our Sun. Each has a 10-sided box housing scientific instruments and electronics. Atop each is a high-gain antenna resembling a satellite dish whose direction can be altered via thrusters to change trajectory when approaching outer planets or leaving them.

Voyager 1 made history on August 6, 2012 when it officially left Earth’s heliosphere and entered interstellar space, as determined by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory using data gleaned from plasma wave experiments conducted on board each spacecraft which measured electron oscillations. Each spacecraft also features a golden record with visual instructions on playing it as well as greetings written in 55 languages and 122 images; its surface was coated with uranium so future finders could use this technique to date it back.

Exploring Planets

Voyager 1 and 2 completed extensive tours of Jupiter, Saturn, and their rings during their travels through space, taking thousands of photos and measurements that revolutionized our understanding of them. They also carried an iconic golden record intended as both a cultural time capsule and greeting to any intelligent life that may one day discover them.

Voyager 1 became the farthest man-made object from Earth when it left our solar system and entered interstellar space in 2012. It still has enough plutonium powering its transmitters and may still operate until 2036.

The Voyagers were designed to explore Jupiter and Saturn, their magnetospheres, moons, as well as lower energy particles, fields, and cosmic rays. Each craft contained various instruments for studying these phenomena.

Interstellar Exploration

Both Voyagers possess enough electrical power and thruster fuel to continue operating their current suite of science instruments until 2025, at which time they will have traveled over 13.8 billion miles (22.1 billion kilometers). At that point, their journey may lead them toward other stars in our galaxy.

Voyager 1 will eventually come within 1.6 light-years of AC+79 3888, a star located within Camelopardalis constellation. At that time, it will send back information regarding its journey up until that point and continue providing data over the following decades.

At present, Voyager spacecraft contain golden records with photos and music designed to serve both as time capsules and interstellar messages for aliens or future humans who might discover them in space. Krimigis doubts they’ll ever reach an alien civilization though! Besides that, their data continues to provide new scientific findings; for example, showing plasma changes as it leaves our sun, providing key clues for understanding planet formation on other stars like our own sun.

Final Words

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, the twin satellites launched together by NASA to explore interstellar space, have been an outstanding success despite any quirks they might present. Between them they have successfully traveled through our solar system, out into interstellar space for exploration beyond, traversed moons and planets beyond it and traveled farther than any human-made object has before them.

But their time is limited: sooner or later an engineer won’t be able to fix an issue that comes up, or their probes run out of fuel.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists are taking measures to preserve their power supplies for as long as possible, switching off heaters and other energy-hungry systems on both spacecraft. Their hope is to extend their mission until 2036 when both Voyager probes hit 50 years old; by that point they’ll no longer be within range to link with Earth – each command takes 22.5 hours to travel across 15 billion miles to arrive here and even if engineers manage to make contact, much further communication won’t take place beyond that point.

Scroll to Top