In the 1960s, a Grand Tour to study the outer planets was proposed. This prompted NASA to begin work on a mission in the early 1970s.
Information gathered by the Pioneer 10 spacecraft helped Voyager’s engineers design Voyager to cope more effectively with the intense radiation environment around Jupiter.
Originally, Voyager 1 was planned as Mariner 11 of the Mariner program.
Because of budget cuts, the mission was scaled back to be a flyby of Jupiter and Saturn, and renamed the Mariner Jupiter-Saturn probes. As the program progressed, the name was later changed to Voyager as the probe designs began to differ greatly from previous Mariner missions.
The Voyager 1 spacecraft is a 1,590 lb. space probe launched by NASA on September 5, 1977 to study the outer Solar System and interstellar medium.
The Voyager 2 probe had been launched two weeks earlier, on August 20, 1977.
Despite being launched later, Voyager 1 reached both Jupiter and Saturn sooner, following a shorter trajectory.
Voyager 1 began photographing Jupiter in January 1979. Its closest approach to Jupiter was on March 5, 1979, at a distance of about 217,000 miles from the planet’s center. Because of the greater photographic resolution allowed by a closer approach, most observations of the moons, rings, magnetic fields, and the radiation belt environment of the Jovian system were made during the 48-hour period that bracketed the closest approach.
Operating for 36 years as of September 5, 2013, the spacecraft communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and return data.
Today, Voyager 1 is the farthest man-made object from Earth and is currently traveling in a previously unstudied region of space.
As part of the Voyager program, and like its sister craft Voyager 2, the spacecraft is in an extended mission, tasked with locating and studying the boundaries of the Solar System, including the Kuiper belt, the heliosphere and interstellar space.
The primary mission ended on November 20, 1980, after encountering the Jovian system in 1979 and the Saturnian system in 1980. It was the first probe to provide detailed images of the two largest planets and their moons.
On February 14, 1990, Voyager 1 took the first ever “family portrait” of the Solar System as seen from outside,which includes the famous image known as “Pale Blue Dot”.
On November 17, 1998, Voyager 1 overtook Pioneer 10 as the most distant man-made object from Earth. It is currently the most distant functioning space probe to receive commands and transmit information to Earth.
On December 13, 2010, it was confirmed that Voyager 1 passed the reach of the solar wind emanating from the Sun. It is suspected that solar wind at this distance turns sideways because of interstellar wind pushing against the heliosphere. Since June 2010, detection of solar wind has been consistently at zero, providing conclusive evidence of the event.
On March 8, 2011, Voyager 1 was commanded to change its orientation to detect the current direction of the solar wind. A test roll done in February confirmed the spacecraft’s ability to maneuver and reorient itself. The course of the spacecraft was not changed. It rotated 70 degrees counterclockwise with respect to Earth to detect the solar wind. This was the first time the spacecraft had done any major maneuvering since the family portrait photograph of the planets was taken in 1990. The spacecraft can be maneuvered again to further analyze the solar wind. After the first roll the spacecraft had no problem in reorienting itself with Alpha Centauri, Voyager 1’s guide star, and it resumed sending transmissions back to Earth. This is a major milestone in the Voyager interstellar program. Voyager 2 is still detecting outward flow of solar wind but it is estimated that in the coming months or years it will experience the same conditions as Voyager 1.
On June 15, 2011, the Low Energy Charged Particle device on Voyager 1 has detected the outward flow of the solar wind to be at zero. This means it is flowing parallel up and down to the Sun, signaling that the interstellar medium is very close. Voyager 2 still has more travel time before it reaches the interstellar medium, while scientists believed Voyager 1 will enter interstellar space “at any time”.
On December 1, 2011, it was announced that Voyager 1 detected the first Lyman-alpha radiation originating from the Milky Way galaxy. Lyman-alpha radiation had previously been detected from other galaxies, but because of interference from the Sun, the radiation from the Milky Way was not detectable.
On December 5, 2011, it was announced that Voyager 1 had entered a new region referred to as a “cosmic purgatory” by NASA. Within this stagnation region, charged particles streaming from the Sun slow and turn inward, and the Solar System’s magnetic field has doubled in strength as interstellar space appears to be applying pressure. Energetic particles originating in the Solar System have declined by nearly half, while the detection of high-energy electrons from outside has increased by 100 fold. The inner edge of the stagnation region is located approximately 113 astronomical units from the Sun, while the outer edge is unknown.
On June 14, 2012, NASA announced that Voyager 1 has reported a marked increase in its detection of charged particles from interstellar space, which are normally deflected by the solar winds within the heliosphere from the Sun. The craft thus begins to enter the interstellar medium at the “final frontier of the Solar System”,or the “edge of the Solar System”.
On September 9, 2012, Voyager 1 was 1.13254×1010 miles from the Earth and 1.13218×1010 miles from the Sun; and traveling at 38,120 mph. (relative to the Sun) and traveling outward at about 3.595 AU per year.
At this speed, 73,775 years would pass before reaching the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, were the spacecraft traveling in the direction of that star. Voyager 1 will need about 17,565 years at its current speed to travel a complete light year.)
Sunlight takes 16.89 hours to get to Voyager 1.
On December 3, 2012, NASA scientists announced that Voyager 1 had discovered a previously unknown region of the heliosphere. Described as a “magnetic highway,” here the pressure of the interstellar medium sweeps back the Sun’s magnetic field and with it many of the slower moving particles emerging from within the Solar System. These are mixed with faster moving particles entering the Solar System from the interstellar medium. The magnetic field in this newly discovered region is 10 times more intense than Voyager 1 encountered before the termination shock. It is expected to be the last barrier before the spacecraft exits the Solar System completely and enters interstellar space.
On March 20, 2013, it was announced that Voyager 1 may have been the first man-made object to leave the Solar System, on August 25, 2012. However, it is still under debate as to whether the new region is interstellar space or an unknown region of the Solar System.
As of today, Voyager 1 is moving with a relative velocity to the Sun of 17 miles per second.
The amount of power available to the probe has decreased over time, and will be no longer be able to power any single instrument by 2025.
Now WE know em