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according to sindibad (a website) the voyager space mission is coming to an end. How long until this happens. according to the website, NASA wants to end the mission while the probes are still operational to avoid having an unexpected loss of the spacecraft they can't control.

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    $\begingroup$ They already are 'lost' to some extent. It isn't like we are going to get them back. And at some point the communication link is going to run out of gain, and the RTG is going to run out of juice, so yes, you want to shut them down in an orderly fashion. $\endgroup$
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ @JonCuster I was not implying any recovery effort. The whole reason we put them out there is so they won't be recovered. And, no, a mission is not considered "lost" until they are either dead, or are in an unknown location. We still know where BOTH voyagers are in space so they are therefore not lost. (yet.) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ @JonCuster: what-if.xkcd.com/38 $\endgroup$
    – JuanCa
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 23:38
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    $\begingroup$ @JuanCa Very interesting article, I've read it several times. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 1 at 21:21

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No, NASA is not planning to 'abandon' the Voyagers. They will be kept in service for as long as possible.

Suzanne Dodd spoke about this last year.

  • They expect they will be able to keep both spacecraft in operation until their 50th anniversary (2027).
  • they hope they'll be able to keep Voyager 1 operational until it reaches a distance of 200 AU, in 2035.

The mission is limited by two main factors:

  • the power output of the RTGs. This slowly reduces over time, and they will have to switch off instruments to stay within available power. The mission will end when there is not enough power left to run a single science instrument.
  • equipment failure. The mission could end at any time if a catastrophic failure occurs. Some of the redundancy is gone already, i.e. there are systems that no longer have a backup they can switch to.

The DESCANSO book series (esp Volume 4) has an estimate of the remaining life of the spacecraft: enter image description here

As you can see, communications and fuel are not the limiting factors, electrical power is. They've already exceeded the power estimate from this 2002 document:

  • they were able to switch of the heaters of several instruments. The instruments kept operating. As of 2023, 5 instruments are still operational.
  • they recently changed the power strategy: they are now operating closer to the limits of available power, instead of keeping a power reserve.
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The Voyagers have enough electrical power and thruster fuel to keep its current suite of science instruments on until at least 2025. By that time, Voyager 1 will be about 13.8 billion miles (22.1 billion kilometers) from the Sun and Voyager 2 will be 11.4 billion miles (18.4 billion kilometers) away.

Source

So the missions expected ending date will be after 2025 but there is no information from NASA if the mission will be terminated in 2026, 2027 or later. If there is not enough fuel or electrical power to keep the antenna of the Voyager directed to Earth, continuation of the mission is impossible. If no radio signal from the Voyager may be received during some weeks or months, continuation of the mission does not make sense.

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  • $\begingroup$ this does not answer all parts of my question. (I asked how LONG until the missions expected ending date.) $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ alright. You could have put that in there. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 22:35
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    $\begingroup$ @DekoRevinio There is no accurate measurement of remaining fuel--it's a decidedly non-trivial problem in space. Thus they have no way of knowing when fuel exhaustion will happen. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2022 at 5:37
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I don't think it's true that NASA wants to end the program while the probes are operational. Based on the Wikipedia articles for Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, it sounds NASA just kept tracking those earlier spacecraft until they could no longer contact them.

And that makes sense. The probes are already on their final trajectories; there's no special state they need to be left in once NASA is done.

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According to answers to Why were the "perfectly functioning" seismometers placed by Apollo 12, 14, 15 and 16 astronauts all shut off in 1977? NASA did in effect "abandon" functioning spacecraft components that were still returning data of some value to Earth. Earthquakes and seismic events due to impacts are unpredictable so this might have been somewhat surprising.

Per those answers operation did require a ground crew, space, resources and instructions to be written and transmitted regularly, and a decision was made that the additional data that might return would not justify the continued use of resources, or that there were better uses for those resources.

The Voyagers don't serve as any kind of "early warning" system from interstellar threats like supernovae, those problems will come at us at the speed of light, unlike the way DSCOVR, SOHO and other spacecraft at Sun-Earth L1 can warn us of solar ejecta headed our way.

The cameras were never high enough resolution to do the kind of parallax measurements1 that New Horizons is doing, and they're also (I assume unrecoverably) shut down.

But the Voyagers do continue to make measurements of things that change with time and space - they continue to provide measurements of the interstellar plasma at further and further distances from the sun, both static and dynamic properties.

And I think there is something just so iconic and/or symbolic about this incredible mission and these incredible bits of technology that will make it absolutely impossible for NASA to abandon them; political and grass-roots popular pressure would likely be enormous if it was tried.

The "humans are explorers" sentiment is part of "what are we?" human identity (which we seem to need) is heavily tarnished by what human explorers have historically done - rape, plunder, steal, conquer, assimilate with "resistance is futile" fervor. The Voyagers represent the best of us - the best version of our "we are explorers" narrative. While New Horizons was launched in 2006, The Voyagers were launched in 1977 during a special multi-planetary arrangement opportunity just two years after the fall of Saigon and the end of a decade of bloodshed, loss of life, destruction and devastation sustained by the US (and others). The Voyagers demonstrated that US technology and machinery could also be used for higher purposes than showing the Soviets the US wasn't afraid of sustaining large numbers of American casualties for years and years.

And another part of that iconic and/or symbolic status that would add to an anti-abandonment movement may be due to how the Voyager program is connected to Hollywood and the early Star Trek movies. From Memory Alpha's Voyager 6:

The fictional Voyager 6 probe around which V'ger was built, was actually a full-scale mock-up of the real world Voyager 1 and 2 probes of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL). JPL's director John Casani agreed to loan the model to the studio in October 1977, mere months after the actual Voyager probes were launched in August and September that year.


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