Archive for July, 2016

BBC, Voyager 1 is impressive

July 25, 2016

The BBC published an article with a paragraph that bugs me. It starts with:

The only spacecraft to have made it further than the planets, moons and asteroids of our solar system is Voyager 1.

To claim that Voyager 1 has traveled further away than all the asteroids is to claim that the Oort Cloud has none. Object 1996 PW suggests this is not the case. But if the comparison is limited to asteroids no further from the sun than the Kuiper belt, then Voyager 1 is only the farthest such spacecraft. Behind it is Voyager 2, Pioneer 10, and Pioneer 11. New Horizons hasn’t yet gotten past the Kuiper belt, but it’s on the way.

The paragraph continues:

At the time of writing, this plucky probe was 20,083,476,000 kilometres (12,479,293,426 miles) from Earth, travelling at some 17 kilometres per second. This sounds impressive until you remember that Voyager 1 was launched in 1977, is fitted with early ’70s scientific instruments, cameras and sensors and has been voyaging for almost 40 years.

How does a launch in 1977, and all that implies, make Voyager 1’s distance and velocity any less impressive? I don’t think it does at all.

Here is something that makes both Voyagers very impressive: they still function. Both spacecraft continue to make observations of the solar wind and are now seeing how it interacts with the wind beyond. The current prediction is that both will have enough electrical power to continue making observations and transmitting them until at least 2025, for almost fifty years of operation. How’s that for electronics and mechanical parts that haven’t been replaced or seen a mechanic in forty years, during which time they’ve been exposed to a good amount of ionizing radiation?

The Voyagers are very impressive feats of engineering. Operating for almost forty years only makes them more impressive. How many machines can do that without maintenance?


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