NASA’s twin Voyager probes are about 45 years old — and they’re facing some tough decisions

On August 20, 1977, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft was launched into space. Its twin, Voyager 1, was released 16 days later. Today, they are not only the furthest man-made objects — 12 billion and 14.5 billion miles (19.3 billion and 23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth, respectively — but also NASA’s longest operating mission, which continues to send data from interstellar flights. Towards the edge of the solar system as it approaches its forty-fifth birthday.

but all Voyager spacecraft It is powered by a limited nuclear power source, and both sources are dwindling to dangerously low levels. Each spacecraft carries a store of the radioactive isotope plutonium-238. When the isotope decays, it releases energy that is converted into electricity by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). At launch, RTGs supplied each spacecraft with 450 watts of power. Now, they produce less than half that amount and their electrical output is decreasing by four watts each year.


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