Edward Stone is retiring after 50 years as Project Scientist for the Voyager mission. The twin spacecraft revolutionized our understanding of our Solar System, and Stone was along for the ride every step of the way. Both spacecraft are still going, travelling deeper into interplanetary space, and still sending data home.
But after a long and rewarding career full of achievements and recognition, Stone is moving on.
Earlier this year, the teams attached to the Voyager 1 mission noticed that the venerable spacecraft was sending weird readouts about its attitude articulation and control system (called AACS, for short). The data it’s providing didn’t really reflect what was actually happening onboard. That was the bad news. The good news was that it didn’t affect science data-gathering and transmission. And, the best news came this week: team engineers have fixed the issue with the AACS and the data are flowing normally again.
Old computer systems have a lot of wacky ways to fail. Computers that are constantly blasted by radiation have even more wacky ways to fail. Combine those two attributes, and eventually, you’re bound to have something happen. It certainly seems to have with Voyager 1. The space probe, which has been in active service for NASA for almost 45 years, is sending back telemetry data that doesn’t make any sense.
Thirty years have now passed since the Voyager 1 spacecraft
snapped one of the most iconic and memorable pictures in spaceflight history. Known
as the “Pale Blue Dot,” the heart-rending view shows planet Earth as a single,
bright blue pixel in the vastness of space, as seen from the outer reaches of
the solar system.
Now, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have provided a
new and improved version, using state of the art image-processing software and
techniques to reprocess the thirty-year-old image. JPL software engineer and
image processor Kevin Gill, whose images we feature often on Universe Today,
led the effort.
NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft went into fault protection mode on Tuesday January 28th. The fault protection routines automatically protect the spacecraft in harmful conditions. Both Voyagers have these routines programmed into their systems.
After it happened, NASA engineers were still in communication with the spacecraft and receiving telemetry.
Only two of humanity’s spacecraft have left the Solar System: NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Voyager 1 left the heliosphere behind in 2012, while Voyager 2 did the same on Nov. 5th, 2018. Now Voyager 2 has been in interstellar space for one year, and five new papers are presenting the scientific results from that one year.
Voyagers 1 and 2 have the distinction of being in space for 42 years and still operating. And even though they’re 18 billion km (11 billion miles) from the Sun, they’re still valuable scientifically. But they’re running out of energy, and if NASA wants them to continue on much longer, they have some decisions to make.
During the early 1990s, NASA’sPioneer 10 and 11 probes became the first robotic missions to venture beyond Neptune. In 2012 and 2018, the Voyager 1 and 2 missions went even farther by crossing the heliopause and entering interstellar space. Eventually, these probes may reach another star system, where their special cargo (the Pioneer Plaques and the Golden Records) could find their way into the hands of another species.
Which raises an important question: where might these spacecraft eventually wander? To address this, Coryn Bailer-Jones of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy and Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently conducted a study that examined which star systems the Voyager and Pioneer probes will likely encounter as they drift through the Milky Way over the next few million years…
It has been almost forty years since the Voyager 1 and 2 missions visited the Saturn system. As the probes flew by the gas giant, they were able to capture some stunning, high-resolution images of the planet’s atmosphere, its many moons, and its iconic ring system. In addition, the probes also revealed that Saturn was slowly losing its rings, at a rate that would see them gone in about 100 million years.
More recently, the Cassini orbiter visited the Saturn system and spent over 12 years studying the planet, its moons and its ring system. And according to new research based on Cassini’s data, it appears that Saturn is losing its rings at the maximum rate predicted by the Voyager missions. According to the study, Saturn’s rings are being gobbled up by the gas giant at a rate that means they could be gone in less 100 million years.