NASA power hack prolongs 45-year Voyager 2 mission

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At 12 billion miles (20 billion kilometers) from Earth, Voyager 2 is so far away that it takes more than 22 hours. NASA signals to reach probes. With its power slowly waning, mission planners thought they would have to shut down one of its five scientific instruments next year, but a newly implemented plan has provided a welcome delay.

A recent adjustment, in which the probe redirects a small amount of power to the onboard safety system, means all five science instruments aboard Voyager 2 can remain active until 2026, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Press announcement. There is some risk involved, as the affected system protects Voyager 2 from voltage irregularities, but NASA says the probe can now keep its science instruments running for a while.

Voyager 2, along with its twin companion Voyager 1, are probes that just keep on dotting. Launched in 1977, the spacecraft visited several planets in the outer solar system before tickling the outer edge of the solar system — a protective bubble-like region of space that surrounds the Sun and shields us from harmful radiation from interstellar space. The probes are still active and are gathering unprecedented information about the heliosphere and its protective properties.

“The science data the Voyagers are returning becomes more valuable the farther they go from the Sun, so we’re certainly interested in keeping the science instruments operational for as long as possible,” explained Voyager Project Scientist Linda Spilker at NASA’s JPL. In publication.

Related Articles: How NASA will extend the life of the Voyager probes 11 billion miles from Earth

The generators on both probes continue to lose power each year as a result of the decay process. This did not affect their science gathering, but mission planners had to shut down heaters and other non-essential systems to compensate for the ongoing power loss. As for Voyager 2, it was getting to the point where one of the science instruments needed to be shut down soon — early next year.

As a result of the newly implemented hack, Voyager 2 is now using a small amount of backup power provided for an onboard safety mechanism designed to protect the craft from potentially damaging voltage spikes. The probe is stealing some – not much – of this juice to keep all five of its science instruments running.

“Although spacecraft voltages will not be tightly regulated as a result, even after more than 45 years of flight, the electrical systems on both probes remain relatively stable, reducing the need for safety nets,” according to NASA JPL. “The engineering team is also able to monitor the voltage and respond if it fluctuates too much. If the new approach works well for Voyager 2, the team may implement it on 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 alternate direction. The onboard scientific instrument failed early during the Voyager 1 mission, making it dependent on less power than Voyager 2.

According to Suzanne Dodd, Voyager’s project manager at JPL, voltage spikes are a small risk at this stage of the mission and Voyager 2’s more science—its value. “We’ve been monitoring the spacecraft for a few weeks, and it seems like this new approach is working,” she said.

One of the greatest achievements in spaceflight history just got an extension, and for that we should all be very grateful. It’s incredible, but after all these years NASA is still able to squeeze some extra life out of these pioneering probes.

correction: A previous version of this post mistakenly claimed that the signal took 22 minutes to reach Voyager 2, when it is actually 22 hours. Yes, the investigation is far from over.

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