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Thread: What is the oldest active space probe?

  1. #1
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    What is the oldest active space probe?

    It is my impression that either one of the Pioneer or the Voyager probes, near the edge of the Solar System, is still transmitting signals back to Earth. Is this impression accurate?

    Do we have more than one probe near the edge of the Solar System that is still transmitting?

    Are there other probes that are even older, that are still active?

    Thanks in advance for your considered responses.

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    Voyager 2 holds the current record. It was launched on August 20, 1977, and is still being used for science observations, along with Voyager 1. (Voyager 1 was launched slightly later but was given a faster trajectory, so it got to Jupiter first, hence the numbering.)

    Pioneer 6 holds the all-time longevity record, launched December 16, 1965, and last returning data December 8, 2000 - after almost 35 years. It is conceivable that if contact were attempted again that it might still be working, but so far as I can tell no one has tried.

    The Pioneers that left the solar system are no longer communicating.
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    That got me wondering, what is the oldest artificial satellite in Earth orbit.

    According to this website Vanguard 1 was launched March 17, 1958, but is not longer operational.

    I couldn't find what was the oldest operating one; does anyone know?
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    These are most interesting responses. I think that it is testament to the engineering of the Voyager probes that one of them still works nearly 29 years after it was launched. And that goes without saying, as well, for the Pioneer 6.

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    This page gives IMP-8 as the oldest operating spacecraft. I guess it trumps Voyager as it was launched on October 26, 1973.

    Jonathan's Space Report has a somewhat dated discussion (1999) of this topic here.
    Everything I need to know I learned through Googling.

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    The ATS 3 experimental communications satellite was launched in 1967. AFAIK, it is still operational.

    Edit: Last confirmed reference to operations was mid-2004.

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    What's the oldest, still doing beyond-our-solar-system astronomy?

    IUE ran for almost 20 years, but was turned off in 1996.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nereid
    IUE ran for almost 20 years, but was turned off in 1996.
    So why did they turn it off ? Budget cuts?

    What was Pioneer 6's mission and do we know where it is, and could we start a campaign to get it back on line? (would it provide anything useful)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sticks
    So why did they turn it off ? Budget cuts?

    What was Pioneer 6's mission and do we know where it is, and could we start a campaign to get it back on line? (would it provide anything useful)
    The IUE was a very good mission, it ran great for about 20 years measuring the energies of ultraviolet rays coming from celestial objects but near the end of its life it developed problems like gyroscope-failure and loss of hydrazine. The folks at NASA / ESA decided keeping it operational was very hard due to different equipment failures and then ESA / NASA deliberately darined its batteries and switched IUE off, it remains in Space as a non-operational spacecraft.

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    so was it replaced or do we not collect that data anymore?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sticks
    What was Pioneer 6's mission and do we know where it is, and could we start a campaign to get it back on line? (would it provide anything useful)
    It's in a heliocentric orbit just inside that of the earth and its mission was to gather particle and fields data on the solar wind and cosmic radiation. It could probably be found again, but several of its instruments had failed before it was abandoned and later probes have carried similar instrumentation, so I doubt if it wold be very useful.

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    I have found a chart with the positions of the pioneers 1 and 2 and the voyagers 1 and 2,but i can see not pioneer 6 on the charts on internet. Is there a chart with the position of pioneer 6? And i have never heard about pioneer 6 ,what is the pioneer 6 for kind of spacecraft? Denis.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Denis12
    I have found a chart with the positions of the pioneers 1 and 2 and the voyagers 1 and 2,but i can see not pioneer 6 on the charts on internet. Is there a chart with the position of pioneer 6? And i have never heard about pioneer 6 ,what is the pioneer 6 for kind of spacecraft? Denis.
    Pioneer was NASA's catch-all name for small space probes, just as Explorer was used for a wide range of scientific satellites. Pioneers 1 to 4 were the early moon missions, Pioneer 5 was initially intended to be a Venus fly-by, but was scaled down to the first heliocentric science mission instead, Pioneers 6 to 9 were also heliocentric science missions as described above, Pioneers 10 to 11 were Jupiter/Saturn missions and Pioneers 12 to 13 were renamed pre-launch to Pioneer Venus.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Denis12
    I have found a chart with the positions of the pioneers 1 and 2 and the voyagers 1 and 2,but i can see not pioneer 6 on the charts on internet. Is there a chart with the position of pioneer 6? And i have never heard about pioneer 6 ,what is the pioneer 6 for kind of spacecraft? Denis.
    Pioneers 6 and 9 are in circular solar orbits 0.8 AU from the Sun, i.e., just a little ways inside Earth's orbit. Pioneers 7 and 8 are in circular solar orbits 1.1 AU from the Sun, a little outside of Earth's orbit.
    Everything I need to know I learned through Googling.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Denis12
    I have found a chart with the positions of the pioneers 1 and 2 and the voyagers 1 and 2,but i can see not pioneer 6 on the charts on internet. Is there a chart with the position of pioneer 6?
    I've seen hard-copy charts, but the best I can find on the www is Celestia. I haven't tried it myself due to, ahem, being at work at present. It involves downloading and running a program, and includes a lot of missions, Pioneer 6 being one.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nereid
    What's the oldest, still doing beyond-our-solar-system astronomy?

    IUE ran for almost 20 years, but was turned off in 1996.
    Ah, the famous 3-year mission that lasted almost 18. The spacecraft that wouldn't die (bwahahahahah).

    By now, actually Hubble is within 2.5 years of that record. You might include the Voyagers in this category, since some deep-space UV science has been done during cruise phases, but that ceased for budgetary reasons (i.e. which branches of NASA got charged for use of the Deep Space Network) almost 10 years ago.

    I can't think of any non-solar astronomical spacecraft older than HST at this point. Compton lasted 10 years, Granat about 5. Chandra and XMM-Newton are each a bit more than 5, and WMAP is close to that. HETE-2 is coming up on 6 years. Caveat - GRB detectors fly on such a wide range of platforms, that some meteorological satellite might qualify.

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    This has been discussed briedly here, and initially in the Ultimate Astronomy Quiz, starting from this page, with additional info the next page from Graham2001.

    Does anyone know of a site or other resource that gives the reentry dates or other fate of satellites like Syncom III?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fram
    Does anyone know of a site or other resource that gives the reentry dates or other fate of satellites like Syncom III?
    Decay dates are here (in column F). Afraid I don't know of a general site that lists when payloads still in orbit, like Syncom 3, ceased operating.

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    Thanks! So Syncom 3 is probably still in orbit... I suppose that perhaps, as Syncom 2 and 3 were finally Department of Defense satellites, the info on what happened to them is somehow classified? Or else no one except us is interested

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fram
    Thanks! So Syncom 3 is probably still in orbit... I suppose that perhaps, as Syncom 2 and 3 were finally Department of Defense satellites, the info on what happened to them is somehow classified? Or else no one except us is interested
    Definitely still in orbit, geostationary satellites don't decay. Doesn't appear to be classified, I've had a rummage through my notes and found that they were retired from service on 1969 Apr 1 and Syncom 3 was finally switched off 1974 Dec 29. At this lapse in time, I've no idea of my sources for these dates.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sticks
    so was it replaced or do we not collect that data anymore?

    Hubble has been working in visible but the closest craft that work to IUE's observations are perhaps NASA's XrayTelescope-Chandra,
    Japan's Astro Satellite ( Astro-1 failed while AstroE2 lost all of its liquid helium ) and another observatory called ESA's-XMM-Newton which observed the comet Tempel 1 during Deep Impact.

    One other 16 year craft was 'Ulysses' it is a mission to study the plasma of the Sun and magnetic field of Jupiter was launched successfully in 1990, it is a joint ESA/NASA mission had has also studied Heliosphere
    but recently there were questions concerning the budget for the mission.

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    To add to MT's list, FUSE and Galex carry on the redward of the Lyman limit UV tradition of IUE (OK, FUSE does spectroscopy, not imaging); the Astro observatories had a couple of (relatively brief) moments of glory (not really a spaceprobe); and Swift's UV and X-ray telescopes do TOOs (when they're not busy chasing GRBs).

    AFAIK, there's nothing up there now that is doing astronomy* between the Lyman limit and soft X-ray region.

    *other than the Sun, of course; the light of all our lives is the object of many a space probe's EUV eye

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    Quote Originally Posted by gwiz
    Definitely still in orbit, geostationary satellites don't decay. Doesn't appear to be classified, I've had a rummage through my notes and found that they were retired from service on 1969 Apr 1 and Syncom 3 was finally switched off 1974 Dec 29. At this lapse in time, I've no idea of my sources for these dates.
    Thanks! It was because of the mention geosynchronous (Syncom 2) and geostationary (Syncom 3) that I thought that these would probably still be up there, but it is nice to have confirmation. And working for ten years is not bad for these early birds (Vanguard worked for six years).

    According to Wikipedia, Vanguard will stay in orbit for some 240 years, so thereafter Vanguard 2 will be the oldest for some 60 years (Vanguard 3 has a similar expected lifetime). Thereafter, and excluding any satellites (American, Russian, other) I forget about for the moment, Syncom 2 and 3 will normally be the oldest remaining satellites in Earth orbit (assuming no one brings them down or somehow keeps a Vanguard up there, of course).

    Having said that, I have of course stumbled across ome other early satellites that are still up there and will be for some time. Alouette (Canada) was launched in 1962, still orbits, and may even be possibly made active again! Expected life time (inactive) is some 2000 years, according to the file gwiz provided.
    Other remarkable ones: Isis-1 was used for 21 years (1969 - 1990)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nereid
    To add to MT's list, FUSE and Galex carry on the redward of the Lyman limit UV tradition of IUE (OK, FUSE does spectroscopy, not imaging)
    That's OK, IUE didn't do UV imaging, either! I idly started listing all the space missions, satellites, or probes used for space astronomy, and got a quick list of an even 50 not counting incidental GRB detectors or solar-astronomy missions (and, come to think of it, only counting Astro or the Gemini UV camera once each). On top of that, I recently learned that there were 3 X-15 missions flown for UV astronomy. (There are lots of untold stories around most of these - anybody wanna guess what an upcoming book proposal might be?) Oddest note on this recently - you can go out and buy a toy copy of George Carruther's UV Schmidt telescope as carried to the Moon on Apollo 16. It comes with the action figure of "Commander Wolf Perry".

    Oops, no longer 50, just remembered HALCA. (You know, you might have thought I would have mentioned FUSE and GALEX earlier, having a grant to get data with one and being on a committee for the other. But noooo, the brain seems to have been caught in an ether belt in which neural functions are slowed down).

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    It is interesting that Pluto doesn't have a space probes around it because its gravitational pull is so week that the space probes floats away.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ToSeek View Post
    Pioneers 6 and 9 are in circular solar orbits 0.8 AU from the Sun, i.e., just a little ways inside Earth's orbit. Pioneers 7 and 8 are in circular solar orbits 1.1 AU from the Sun, a little outside of Earth's orbit.
    Just a thought, could those probes ever be tracked and one day recovered by a future space mission, either by robot or human space flight and brought back to Earth?

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    What is the oldest active space probe?

    Quote Originally Posted by MBBOY View Post
    It is interesting that Pluto doesn't have a space probes around it because its gravitational pull is so week that the space probes floats away.
    Not likely; probes have orbited much smaller objects.

    Only one probe has visited Pluto, so it makes sense for it to be a flyby. You can get there faster if you donít have to slow down to enter orbit.

    Plus, if you donít need to carry braking fuel, you can use the weight for scientific payload. Of course, a flyby limits observation time. Everything is a trade off.


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    Quote Originally Posted by MBBOY View Post
    It is interesting that Pluto doesn't have a space probes around it because its gravitational pull is so week that the space probes floats away.
    If expense had not been an issue, New Horizons could have been equipped with a retro rocket to slow it down and place it into orbit around Pluto. After all, its own moons do not float away. The mass of the necessary motor and fuel would have required a much larger and more expensive launch vehicle, so we settled for a high speed flyby.

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