September 5th was a special date this year. It marks the 30th anniversary of the Voyager 1 spacecraft launch. Voyager 2 was launch shortly before it on August 20th both in 1977. Both spacecraft are still in operation and continue to send us data from space.
For those that remember, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were the first attempts to send probes to the edge of our solar system passing several planets along the way for analysis and imaging. Voyager 1 is further away from the sun than any other probe we have launched. No ordinary probe would be able to continue operating such a distance from the Sun as solar power from that distance is minimal. The solution was Nuclear Power.
Voyager 1 and 2 use a radioactive isotope (Pu-238) to provide 420W to power the spacecraft. As the isotope decays it generates heat to keep the craft from freezing and electricity to keep it functioning. It is estimated this power source will continue to provide enough power for scientific data transmission until 2020 at which time it is estimated the remaining power won’t be enough to continue operations.
Both Voyager spacecraft have a golden record inside that contains information that might enable another star faring race to find and contact or even visit the Earth. The golden disks themselves are copper plated in gold and is played like an old vinyl record. Not exactly high tech but it should get the job done if someone should ever find them.
Voyager 1 is estimated to have left our solar system completely and is now in the empty space between ours and the next. Voyager 2 should be crossing into this empty space soon if it hasn’t already.
Some Voyager Milestones:
To think that for 30 years probes based on 1960-70’s technology have operated in deep space snapping some of the best pictures of planets and moons of our solar system to date is impressive. Hopefully newer probes will pick up where these left off and breach the edge of the solar system much quicker than the Voyagers.
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