NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft, launched over 45 years ago, is still sending valuable scientific data from interstellar space. However, the spacecraft's power supply has been dwindling, which threatens to shut down its scientific instruments. In a recent development, NASA engineers have discovered a clever solution to extend the mission's life by using standby power. This creative approach is expected to provide a few more years of vital data from Voyager 2, which has already delivered groundbreaking insights into the outer reaches of our solar system.
NASA engineers have found a creative solution to extend the life of Voyager 2’s science instruments, providing a few more years of valuable data from interstellar space.
Reviving Voyager 2’s Instruments for Longer Exploration
Voyager 2, launched in 1977 and now over 12 billion miles from Earth, will have its science instruments remain operational until 2026 rather than shutting down this year. This extension comes as a result of using a backup power reservoir, initially set aside for an onboard safety mechanism.
Voyager Twins: Unraveling the Secrets of the Heliosphere
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are the only spacecraft to operate beyond the heliosphere, the protective bubble created by the Sun. The twin probes are helping researchers understand the heliosphere’s shape and role in shielding Earth from interstellar radiation.
Yoager 2: Maximizing Science Potential in the Depths of Space
As Voyager 2 moves further from the Sun, its scientific data becomes increasingly valuable. According to Linda Spilker, Voyager’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the team aims to keep as many science instruments running as possible.
Powering the Probes with Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators
Operating more than 12 billion miles (20 billion km) from Earth, @NASAVoyager 2 uses five science instruments to study interstellar space.
To keep those instruments operating, the spacecraft has begun using a small reserve of backup power: https://t.co/ftEcZrDjd7 pic.twitter.com/0ILCjfOEkC
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) April 26, 2023
Both Voyager probes rely on radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) to power their systems. These generators transform heat generated by decaying plutonium into electricity. However, the decay process reduces power output each year, forcing engineers to disable non-essential systems.
Tapping into Backup Power to Keep Science Instruments Active
To avoid shutting down Voyager 2’s science instrument, the team decided to utilize a small amount of power reserved for the voltage regulator safety mechanism. If successful, this approach may also be implemented on Voyager 1.
From a Four-Year Mission to Decades of Discovery
Originally planned as a four-year mission, the Voyager probes’ objectives have been extended multiple times. Voyager 2 remains the only spacecraft to have visited the ice giants Neptune and Uranus, while both probes have now crossed the heliosphere’s boundary.
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