NASA prepares to power-down Voyager spacecraft after more than 44 years

After more than 44 years of travelling farther from Earth than any man-made objects have before, the Voyager spacecraft are entering their very final phase.

Both of the Voyagers were launched from Cape Canaveral in 1977 - with Voyager 2 actually the first to take off - taking advantage of a rare alignment (once every 176 years) of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune to shoot into interstellar space

They were designed to last five years and study Jupiter and Saturn but remarkably both spacecraft are still functioning

It took Voyager 1 around 36 years to breach the heliopause, and the data it has sent back since then suggests some fascinating qualities about the role of magnetic fields in the universe.

Voyager 2 then passed into interstellar space in 2018 - 41 years after it was launched.

Both of the spacecraft are powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) - powered by the heat from decaying spheres of plutonium - although the output of these RTGs is decreasing by about four watts every year.

As of today Voyager 1 only has four functioning instruments left, and Voyager 2 has five.

"If everything goes really well, maybe we can get the missions extended into the 2030s. It just depends on the power. That's the limiting point," said Linda Spilker, who started working on the Voyager missions before they launched


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