Voyager 1 Poised to Leave Solar System — Still Running After Three Decades

Meet Voyager 1, the Energizer bunny of space exploration.

The Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts might be the most impressive feat thus far in man’s limited exploration of space.  Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 to eventually provide up close and personal examinations of some of the outer planets of the solar system.  Both Voyager 1 and 2 were strategically launched at times where they could reach the most planets with the least amount of power by relying on favorable alignments to let gravity do most of the work.  Now, thirty-five years later, Voyager 1 is alive and kicking and will soon leave the gravitational influences of our solar system and head out into the next frontier:  interstellar space.

Even as scientists here on Earth go on and on about developing alternative fuel sources, this device is still functioning thirty-five years on thanks to a device called an  radioisotope thermoelectric generators.  This converts plutonium to energy.  Put in simple layman’s terms, it is nuclear power.  The Voyager 1 uses plutonium and a reactor to continue to create its own energy millions of miles from where it was designed on Earth.  Scientists estimate that the Voyager 1 could actually keep right on ticking until 2040 with its supply of fuel, while the Voyager 2 will tinker out around 2037.  They both started with the same amounts, but Voyager 2 spent a lot of fuel visiting Uranus and Neptune, something that was not originally planned.  The Voyager 2’s trek was so successful that NASA decided to go ahead and blow some fuel to try to get to two more planets than they originally were shooting for.

There are plenty of mysteries surrounding Voyager 1 and how it operates.  NASA offers sketchy details to those that are interested, but some things are just hard to believe or understand.  While Voyager operates mostly autonomously, even at an astounding distance of 11.1 billion (that’s right, billion) miles from Earth, NASA is still able to communicate with it and even issue directives.  Obviously, the signals take quite a while to reach the Earth, but the really insane part is how the signals are sent in the first place.

It is a lot easier to accept things on the Earth side.  NASA has all the power and technology in the world at its disposal to send the most powerful signal it can muster into space in the direction of Voyager 1.  However, there is no word on how Voyager 1 could have enough power to transmit any back.  We’re talking about 11.1 billion miles, people!  It doesn’t seem like the Voyager could even be large enough or afford the extra power necessary to send a signal that would even have a remote chance of reaching Earth.  But then again, we could have said the same thing when Voyager 2 was masquerading around the far reaches of the solar system, but we’ve all seen the jaw-dropping pictures of the outer planets that gave us Earthlings a real look instead of tiny dots in telescopes.

Think about it.  It can be difficult to get a signal via radio or cell phone here on Earth between two relatively close locations.  And yet Voyager 1 is able to communicate with NASA from interstellar space.  That’s pretty remarkable, and a sure sign that there is some serious technology out there that we don’t know about.  Nuclear reactors powering spacecrafts 11.1 billion miles from Earth that have enough extra power lying around to transmit data back on an antenna that most amateur radio operators on Earth would scoff at.

It seems that maybe we aren’t being told the whole story.  What do you think?  Any astronomers, engineers, or scientists reading that would like to shed some light on this, please contact us.  We would be more than happy to publish a feature article with more information for our readers and our curiosity.

3 thoughts on “Voyager 1 Poised to Leave Solar System — Still Running After Three Decades”

  1. If it’s still going with the simple technology NASA claims, that’s astounding. However, that seems a bit fantastic. You’re right, how can I barely get cell phone reception when I’m in my house, yet this spacecraft is able to communicate over millions of miles!

  2. Comparing the Voyager radio system to a cell phone is like comparing a carbon arc searchlight to the led penlight on your keychain.

    The Voyager’s nuclear power source generate over 375 watts, and the ultra high frequency radio transmits 23 watts of power using a massive 14 foot highly directional dish antenna through the empty vacuum of space.

    Your cellphone transmits about 1 watt using a tiny 1/2″ non-directional antenna and that signal has to pass through walls and other obstacles.

    In addition, voyager’s signal is received by a massive dish antenna and very sensitive receiving equipment.

    Attempting to make the comparison with a cell phone is absurd.

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