How is Voyager 1 Powered?

Even if you are not a space lover, you must have heard about the incredible creation that is Voyager 1. If you are still unaware, it is a space probe that NASA launched on September 5, 1977, with the mission to study the outer Solar System and beyond. 

Voyager 1 is one of two probes launched in the Voyager program, the other being Voyager 2, and is currently the farthest human-made object from Earth, traveling in interstellar space. 

The feat it achieves is incredible, but what is more mind-boggling is the mystery behind how Voyager 1 is powered. So let us explore that.

How is Voyager 1 Powered?

Voyager 1 is powered by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), which convert into electricity the heat created by the natural radioactive decay of plutonium-238. The RTGs were designed to provide electrical power for the spacecraft’s instruments and systems during its long journey through space.

How long will Voyager 1 last?

It is challenging to predict precisely how long Voyager 1 will last, as it is subject to many factors that can affect its lifespan, such as the degradation of its components and the environment it travels through. However, based on the existing state of the spacecraft and its power supply, NASA estimates that Voyager 1 will be able to continue operating until around 2025.

The power output of Voyager 1’s radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) has decreased over time, as the plutonium-238 they use as fuel has naturally decayed. This means the spacecraft has less power to operate its instruments and systems. In addition, some of the spacecraft’s instruments have been turned off to conserve energy and extend its lifespan.

Despite these challenges, Voyager 1 has persisted in transmitting data back to Earth, and its mission has been extended multiple times since its launch in 1977. NASA is currently monitoring the spacecraft and analyzing the data it sends back. Voyager 1 could continue to function beyond 2025 if it remains serviceable and can still transmit valuable scientific data.

Discoveries of voyager 1

Voyager 1 has made many significant discoveries during its mission, including:

  • Active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon, Io. Voyager 1 was the first spacecraft to observe volcanic activity beyond Earth.
  • It sent back detailed observations of Jupiter’s atmosphere, including discovering a massive storm known as the Great Red Spot.
  • It also discovered numerous new moons around Jupiter, including the small moon Adrastea, the first moon found by Voyager 1.
  • Voyager 1’s elaborate monitoring of Saturn’s rings revealed new features such as gaps, waves, and kinks.
  • It found new moons around Saturn, including the small moon Atlas.
  • It detected the boundary of the heliosphere, the region of space around the Sun where the solar wind dominates, and the beginning of interstellar space.
  • It found a narrow band of charged particles known as the “ribbon” in the outermost edge of the heliosphere.
  • It observed the outer planets Uranus and Neptune revealing new information about their atmospheres, magnetic fields, and moons.
  • It captured the first close-up images of the planets and their natural satellites in the outer Solar System and demonstrated a diverse and complex array of geologic features.

These discoveries and others made by Voyager 1 have greatly expanded our understanding of the outer Solar System and the processes that shape it. 

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1) Will Voyager 1 leave the Milky Way?

Voyager 1 currently travels between stars in the Milky Way galaxy in interstellar space. However, it is not expected to leave the Milky Way galaxy anytime soon, if ever.

The Milky Way galaxy is a vast collection of stars, gas, and dust estimated to be about 100,000 light-years in diameter. Voyager 1 is traversing at a speed of about 17 kilometers per second, or 38,000 miles per hour, which is fast by human standards but relatively slow compared to the extensive distances involved in interstellar space travel.

2) Can Voyager 1 still take pictures?

Several cameras are present in Voyager 1 to capture images of the planets and moons during its mission. However, the spacecraft can no longer take pictures of its surroundings, as its cameras have been turned off to conserve power.

3) Will Voyager 1 ever run out of power?

Yes, Voyager 1 will eventually run out of power as its radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) continue producing less electricity over time. 

Currently, the power output of Voyager 1’s RTGs is around 40 percent of what it was at the beginning of the mission. As the power output continues to decline, the spacecraft will gradually lose the ability to operate its instruments and systems. 

Based on current projections, NASA estimates that Voyager 1’s power supply will be exhausted sometime around 2025. At that point, the spacecraft will no longer be able to communicate with Earth. It will continue to travel through space, bearing a golden record possessing sounds and images of life on Earth as a symbol of humanity’s existence and achievements.

4) Can Voyager 1 still be controlled?

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory still control Voyager 1, but the spacecraft’s operations are now limited due to its distance from Earth and the decreasing power of its systems.

Voyager 1 is currently about 14.3 billion miles from Earth, which means that signals sent to and received from the spacecraft have a travel time of over 20 hours each way, making it difficult to operate the spacecraft in real time. 

Due to its distance from Earth, Voyager 1’s operations are now focused primarily on managing its power supply and scientific instruments rather than making frequent adjustments to its trajectory. The spacecraft’s course has been adjusted a few times over the years using small thrusters, but significant course corrections are no longer possible due to the limited power available.

Wrapping It Up

We hope we have answered all your questions regarding Voyager 1. It is truly a magnificent creation that has solved endless mysteries and uncovered many baffling phenomena. It is saddening that it has limited power left, but we are tremendously thankful for what it achieved for humanity.

Ryan Lenett
At his core, Ryan’s true passion is helping others achieve their own independent goals in life. His skill sets consist of Scientific research, Gadget Reviews and Technical testing. Year over year, Ryan has consistently amassed revenue streams that exceed seven figures in value.