In 1977, NASA launched Voyager 1 space probe on its important interplanetary mission. Since then, the Voyager space probe has been supplying scientists with the most valuable information on the heliosphere and interstellar space, providing data never available before. And even though soon this spacecraft will fail, it may still continue serving humanity by carrying a diplomatic message onboard. To mark the 45th anniversary of the space probe launch, let’s see where is Voyager 1 now and whether will it ever come back.
Voyager 1 Mission Goals & Launch Details
Voyager 1 space probe had two primary mission goals: first, studying satellite rings around Saturn and Jupiter; and second, searching for boundaries or space in the solar system while measuring solar wind particles in this process. The famous space probe not only coped with both; it actually exceeded all scientists’ expectations, proving the most valuable data never available before. It became the first spacecraft to provide detailed images of Saturn and Jupiter and study the interstellar medium. As of today, Voyager 1 space probe still holds the record of the longest operation in space.
So, will Voyager 1 come back to Earth? No, because it is to exit our solar system, and all communication with this probe will be lost. However, it will continue to roam the Milky Way galaxy with a diplomatic message onboard. But before that happens, let’s take a better look at Voyager 1 mission status and history.
Voyager 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral on September 5, 1977. Curiously, the second probe, Voyager 2 launched 16 days earlier, on August 20. The such seemingly illogical numbering makes sense considering which probe was to reach Jupiter first. As you may guess, that was Voyager 1, scheduled to reach its first destination planet on March 5, 1979. The second probe would come to this same destination four months after.
Obviously, achieving such a prominent task called for some great technological effort from NASA. Voyager 1 space probe was probably the most advanced spacecraft of the time — a 10-facet prism with two antennas, rods of electric generators, scientific measurement tools, and a separate magnetometer. Besides, it was important to equip the probe with special insulation to withstand severe space travel conditions and generators that would work without solar energy. To this end, NASA provided generators powered by plutonium-238 oxide. As a result, the spacecraft acquired a launch weight of 798 kg with a payload capacity of 86 kg. That seems small today, but at the time, 2.5-m long Voyager 1 was a vivid example of a cutting-edge space probe technology.
Voyager 1 Current Position & Speed
As of 2017, NASA recognized Voyager 1 space probe as the fastest spacecraft worldwide. Its launch speed was 17 km/s, which allowed Voyager to reach Jupiter in January 1979 — two months before its estimated time. By November 1980, Saturn, the second Voyager 1 destination, already loomed on the ‘horizon.’ Even though some modern spacecraft surely have greater launch speed today, not one has yet surpassed Voyager in terms of calculated gravity maneuvers. According to NASA’s recent estimates, the space probe traverses an average of 523 million km a year.
No doubt, with an impressive speed, Voyager 1 must be rather far from Earth at this point. According to space news resource Orbital Today, plenty of media sources claimed that Voyager 1 exits the solar system in 2013. This, however, was a large exaggeration since the probe will remain with us for another 30,000 years! But even this will not be the end of Voyager 1 expected life as the space probe will likely drift the Milky Way forever — unless, of course, it meets with some unexpected tragedy.
As of now, the Voyager space probe exact location is hard to determine because the speed of Earth orbiting the Sun exceeds Voyager’s speed of moving away from our planet. This means that in different seasons, the actual distance may differ. However, the famous space probe is already 23+ billion km away from home. And it is still transmitting! Only last year, it sent valuable data on matter density in space and interstellar sounds.
Voyager 1 Discoveries & Future Travels
As already mentioned, Voyager 1 space probe has already exceeded all expectations, providing scientists with detailed pictures of space and giving plenty of information for further analysis. However, its journey may be coming to a close because the space probe’s energy is gradually depleting. The probe itself will keep on drifting in space until it exits our solar system to continue its travels in the Milky Way Galaxy.
However, Earth will probably lose connection with its research prove by 2025. As of now, NASA reports four operational devices onboard that keep transmitting signals to ground stations. Besides, a space probe should still have around 70% of its fuel, which should be enough for some time — unless, of course, unknown outside factors influence this. Whatever the car may be, Voyager 1 has already made history as the fastest and most-distanced space probe launched from Earth.