At 12 billion miles (20 billion kmmeters) from Earth, Voyager 2 is so far away that it takes more than 22 minutes until NASA’s signals reach the probe. With its power gradually waning, mission planners thought they might have to shut down one of its five science instruments next year, but the newly implemented plan led to a welcome delay.
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A recent modification, in which the probe redirects a small amount of power intended for an onboard safety system, means that all five science instruments aboard Voyager 2 could remain active until 2026, according to the NASA jet. paying off laboratory press release. There is a small amount of risk the affected system shields Voyager 2 from voltage erratics, but NASA says the probe can now keep its science instruments running for longer.
Voyager 2, along with its twin companion Voyager 1, are the probes that continue to function. Launched in 1977, the spacecraft has visited many planets in the outer solar system before tickling the outer fringes of the heliosphere — the protective, bubble-like region of space surrounding the sun and protecting us from harmful radiation pouring in from interstellar space. The probes are still active and collecting unprecedented data about the heliosphere and its protective qualities.
“The science data coming back from Voyagers becomes more valuable the farther they get from the sun, so we’re definitely interested in keeping as many science instruments as possible running for as long as possible,” Linda Spilker, Voyager project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratoryexplained in launch.
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The generators in both probes lose power each year as a result of an ongoing decay process. This didn’t affect their science gathering, but mission planners had to turn off heaters and other nonessential systems to compensate for the ongoing power loss. For Voyager 2, it was reaching the stage where one science instrument needed to be decommissioned soon — early next year.
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As a result of the newly implemented hack, Voyager 2 now uses a small amount of backup power available for an onboard safety mechanism designed to protect the craft from potentially harmful voltage spikes. The probe steals some of that juice—not much—to keep all five of its science instruments running.
“Although the spacecraft’s electrical voltage will not be tightly regulated as a result, even after more than 45 years in flight, the electrical systems on both probes remain relatively stable, reducing the need for a safety net,” according to NASA JPL. “The engineering team is also able to monitor the voltage and respond if it fluctuates too much. If the new method works well for Voyager 2, the team might apply it to Voyager 1 as well.”
Voyager 1 passed the heliosphere in 2012, while its twin did the same in 2018, the gap being the result of Voyager 2’s slower speed and direction. An onboard science instrument failed early during the Voyager 1 mission, leaving it less reliant on power than Voyager 2.
Voltage spikes are a small risk at this point in the mission, and the reward is worth it – More Science from Voyager 2According to Susan Dodd, Voyager Project Manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We’ve been monitoring the spacecraft for a few weeks now, and this new approach seems to be working,” she said.
One of the greatest achievements in the history of spaceflight has gotten a stretch, and for that we should all be very grateful. It’s incredible, but after all these years, NASA still managed to squeeze some extra life out of these groundbreaking probes.
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