Voyager 2 unmanned space probe celebrates 45th anniversary today

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Exactly 45 years ago, NASA launched the Voyager 2 spacecraft into space. Voyager 1 followed sixteen days later. Both space probes had to study the planets Neptune and Uranus, among other things, and are part of NASA’s longest-running active space mission.

According to the US space agency the Voyager 2 spacecraft is located 19.3 billion kilometers from Earth. In 2018, the probe approached interstellar space, the part of a galaxy where there are no more stars and planetary systems. Voyager 1 is said to be 23.3 billion kilometers from Earth and has already reached interstellar space. Despite the fact that the Voyager mission is the US space agency’s longest-running active space mission, data is still coming in, including information from Voyager 2’s cosmic ray subsystem instrument that can measure cosmic rays. Each signal Voyager 2 sends from its location in space takes about 18 hours to reach Earth, according to NASA.

However, data collection is under threat because the thermoelectric radioisotope generators of both probes generate less and less power year after year; 4W per year less to be exact. At the start of the Voyager mission in 1977, each probe’s generators were generating 450W of electricity. Now that would be less than half, while the radio transmitter of the space probes requires 200W to function. According to NASA, the probes can remain active until 2025, but with a bit of luck and the necessary adjustments, the space agency thinks the probes can last for a few more years. In 2019, NASA already decided to turn off a heating element in Voyager 2 so that the probe could remain operational longer. In 2012 the space agency did the same with Voyager 1.

Voyager 2 was launched into space on August 19, 1977 and, along with Voyager 1, is part of the the Voyager space program. NASA wanted to use that space program to study the planets Neptune and Uranus. Each of the two space probes carries 11 scientific instruments that were supposed to give NASA more information about the composition of these celestial bodies. Both probes also carry a gold plate containing information about planet Earth and humanity.

Voyager Mission – NASA

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