Voyager 1 encounters "new realm"
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Join Date: Jun 2012
07-01-2013, 11:52 AM
Cassini was launched in 1997, and its primary mission will end in 2017 (20 years total, 10 at full operation). Several options at that point have been offered, including running it until it fails, doing an impact study as was done with Galileo in 2002, or parking it in a stable orbit and using it to do magnetospheric or solar wind studies for as long as it operates. NASA never gave an estimate for how long it would operate.
However, one of the really interesting (rejected, but still interesting) options was moving it to another planet. Cassini will be able to leave Saturn and get itself on a course to one of the Centaurs or one of the other gas giants. It would only be a flyby (or possible impact).
The difficulty is in getting the course right - NASA's evaluation in 2008 was that the level of control and fuel they would have would probably only guarantee a Jupiter encounter, they would likely miss if they shot for Uranus or Neptune.
But let's be optimistic, the Neptune encounter's timeline would have the probe flyby or impact Neptune around 2060. The expectation is that it would at this point have roughly the same functionality left that the Voyagers do (so no glorious pictures of Neptune like it has gotten of Saturn, but an impact could still collect data that Voyager never did). That gives us a lower bound of 63 year lifespan (the open-ended options of keeping it at Saturn permanently instead of leaving or doing an impact study are expected to last longer than a Neptune transit, but no end point estimate has been given).
So, assuming Voyager 6 was technologically on par with Cassini, launched 2 years later it would have until at least 2062 and probably some time past that to encounter the anomaly.
Last edited by hevach; 07-01-2013 at