|Spacecraft Mission Pages|
|Mariner 2||Pioneer & Voyager||Voyager||Galileo||Cassini-Huygens||Rosetta|
Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager I and II Flight Paths
Where Are Pioneer 10, 11 and Voyager I and II Spacecraft?
This page shows the positions of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft as they are now and also how they got there. To watch just the voyagers, and follow their path from launch till now, please see the voyager flight path tour page.
[Note: This page is slightly different from the voyager page in that you have to rewind the date backwards and then go forwards again to follow each spacecraft’s mission and manually zoom in and out. The reason for not following any particular spacecraft is (unlike the voyagers) that the pioneer spacecraft head off in different directions and so it's hard to keep both in view and see the details of the flight at the same time. ]
All of these spacecraft were launched in the 1970's and were the first probes to visit the outer planets and to then continue on a course to leave the solar system (as Voyager 1 has done). To watch the whole journey you will have to take control of the application and rewind to the required launch date and then fast forward at your chosen pace to see the whole journey. You can select the appropriate spacecraft from the drop down menu if you wish to keep it at the centre of the screen.
|Spacecraft||Launch Date (UTC)|
|Pioneer 10||March 3, 1972|
|Pioneer 11||April 6, 1973|
|Voyager 2||August 20, 1977|
|Voyager 1||September 5, 1977|
Pioneer 10 was the first Spacecraft to visit Jupiter and the first to traverse the Asteroid belt and to achieve solar system escape velocity and is now heading out of the Solar System.
It was launched in 1972 and began photographing Jupiter from November, 1973. It passed Jupiter at a range of 130,000km in December, 1974, taking some 500 images during its mission as well as studying the asteroids, solar wind, cosmic rays and the radiation and magnetic conditions around Jupiter. It also photographed Ganymede and Europa before continuing its journey towards interstellar space.
Studying Pioneer 10 (and Pioneer 11) as it journeyed away from the sun showed that they were experiencing a tiny but unexpected acceleration in the direction of the sun which was called the "Pioneer Anomaly". Causing a lot of head scratching at the time, this was subsequently been explained by factoring in the force created by heat radiating from the spacecraft into space.
The last contact with Pioneer 10 was in January, 2003, at a distance of 12 billion kilometres (80 AU) from Earth.
Pioneer 11 was launched just over a year later than its twin. Following close behind, it was the second spacecraft to cross the asteroid belt and visit Jupiter. It then journeyed on to become the first spacecraft to visit Saturn.
By the time Pioneer reached Saturn it was being closely followed by the Voyager probes. It was decided to use Pioneer in true sense of its name to test out the entry path of the Voyagers through Saturn's ring system. If Pioneer 11 had been destroyed because of unexpected dust in its path then the Voyagers would have been diverted. Luckily all went well and Pioneer 11 was able to photograph Jupiter's Great Red Spot in detail and passed the planet at a distance of about 43,000 km.
Pioneer 11's encounter with Saturn was quite eventful in that it narrowly missed colliding with a moon. It passed a moon Epimetheus (or perhaps Janus - both moons occupy the same orbit and keep swapping places every four years) at a few thousand kilometres distance. The moons had been tentatively discovered from earth but the fact that there were actually two of them caused confusion which was not properly resolved until Voyager 1 in 1980.
After discovering another small moon and sending back the first images of Saturn's rings from the other side of the planet, Pioneer 11 then headed for interstellar space with last contact in September, 1995.
Voyager 1 was actually launched 2 weeks after Voyager 2 but due to a shorter trajectory it was the first of the two to reach Jupiter and Saturn. It is now probably most famous for being the first man made object to leave the Solar System (which is did in 2012) and enter interstellar space. It is expected to continue to keep sending data until 2025 when its power supply is expected to give out.
Voyager photographed Jupiter and its moons from January to April of 1979 with a closest approach of 349,000 km in March. One of its most exciting discoveries was volcanic activity on the moon Io - the first volcanic activity found on any body other than the earth. Also unexpected was the discovery that Jupiter had a faint ring system.
Voyager 1 used a gravitational sling shot effect to redirect it on its way to Saturn. Arriving in November 1980, Voyager 1 was able to study Saturn's atmosphere and electromagnetic storms in detail. Because Pioneer 11 had discovered that the moon Titan had a thick atmosphere, it was decided that Voyager 1 should be redirected on a path that would enable it to investigate Titan more closely. This decision meant that Voyager 1 would not visit Uranus and Neptune (as Voyager 2 did) or Pluto, but it was thought more important to examine Titan than to attempt to visit these distant objects at some risk.
After Titan, Voyager continued on its journey until it reached interstellar space.
Launched 2 weeks before Voyager 1, voyager 2 took a slightly more rounded orbit to reach Jupiter 3 months later, passing within 570,000km of the planet. Voyager 2 was able to exploit the data from Voyager 1 and discovered more of the Jovian ring system, more volcanic activity on Io and three small moons.
Leaving Jupiter, Voyager 2 followed Voyager 1 on a sling shot trajectory to Saturn arriving there in August 1981. Amongst other data, it was able to make detailed studies of Saturn’s atmosphere before heading onto Uranus.
The trip to Uranus was almost curtailed when Voyager2's camera platform locked up after it passed by Saturn. This failure resulted in images of deep space being returned to earth rather than images of Saturn. After performing some tests it was found that the problem was due to a depletion of lubricant in the drive to the camera platform which caused the platform to seize if rotated too fast. Engineers were able to come up with a plan that involved making sure the platform was only rotated at a lower maximum rate and in circumstances where it needed to pan fast that the spacecraft itself would rotate to keep the cameras pointing in the right direction. This fix proved successful for Voyager 2's encounters with both Uranus and Neptune.
In January 1986, Voyager 2 became the first probe to visit Uranus and passed within 80,000 km of the surface. It discovered 11 new moons and examined Uranus's atmosphere and already known ring system. It also discovered that the magnetic field of Uranus is aligned at 60 degrees to Uranus’s strange "turned on its side" rotation.
Retrospectively (after Pluto was designated to be a Dwarf Planet) August 1989 was the moment when all the planets of the solar system had been visited when Voyager 2 passed Neptune at a distance of less than 5000km. Its trajectory was designed to take it over the north pole of Neptune so that it could pass by Neptune’s large moon Triton. This trajectory caused Voyager2 to be sent off at an angle of 30 degrees south of the ecliptic plane where it still travels towards interstellar space.
Voyager2's visit also discovered a "Great Dark Spot" in Neptune's atmosphere (which has subsequently disappeared) as well as many details about its atmosphere and the geologically active moon Triton.
Message to the Universe
All these (ultimately) interstellar spacecraft carry a message from earth in the form of a golden record which contains images and sounds as a means of saying hello to any extra-terrestrial life form that might find the probe in the future.