NASA is not quite ready to say farewell to its Voyager 2 spacecraft, which was launched in 1977 and is currently exploring what lies beyond the solar system’s outermost planets. It is slowly perishing as it hurtles through interstellar space at over 34,000 miles per hour.
The Voyager engineering crew has already turned off furnaces and other non-essential energy drains. However, the situation has become more dire.
A spacecraft cannot exist eternally among the stars.
NASA was on the verge of deactivating one of the five scientific instruments onboard the spacecraft due to the dwindling power supply. This would signal the beginning of the conclusion of the decades-long scientific mission.
In the nick of time, engineers devised a new plan to extend Voyager 2’s life. From 12 billion miles away, they have identified a hidden power source within one of its components that could prevent them from having to close down a crucial instrument for the next three years.
Voyager’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Linda Spilker, said in a statement, “We are definitely interested in keeping as many science instruments operational for as long as possible, as the science data that the Voyagers are returning becomes more valuable as they move away from the sun.”
Voyager spacecraft replica extends its platform with some of its attached scientific instruments
Both Voyager 2 and its companion, Voyager 1, are nearly 45 years old, which is significantly older than their expected lifespan. They were designed to investigate Jupiter and Saturn, as well as their moons and Saturn’s rings. For the two-planet mission, they were constructed with a five-year lifespan.
After the initial accomplishment, the mission objectives were expanded to include Uranus and Neptune. Together, they have explored four planets, 48 moons, and numerous magnetic fields and rings of planets.
Now, Voyager spacecraft are investigating the sun’s influence’s limits. They are the first instruments to travel beyond the so-called “heliosphere,” the bubble of particles and magnetic fields surrounding the sun.
The twins are assisting scientists in answering questions about its function in shielding Earth from interstellar radiation. Interstellar space is defined by scientists as the region beyond the sun’s constant flow of material affecting its environs.
NASA indicates the interstellar coordinates of the two Voyager spacecraft.
Engineers discovered the additional power in a component designed to shield science instruments from voltage fluctuations. Electrical fluctuations may cause damage to instruments, so a regulator activates a fallback circuit to access the generators’ reserve power. Now, Voyager 2’s instruments will utilize the power instead of storing it.
Both Voyager spacecraft are powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators that convert decaying plutonium heat into electricity. Each year, the process produces less electricity.
Voyager 1 is currently operating with one fewer science instrument than its companion due to an instrument failure early in the mission. Thus, NASA will not have to determine whether to shut down another satellite until next year. If this new power strategy proves effective for Voyager 2, the crew will contemplate applying it to Voyager 1.
Even though Voyager 2 is currently flying without a voltage safety net, engineers are confident that the ship’s electricity is relatively stable, posing only a minimal threat to the onboard instruments.
Voyager’s project manager, Suzanne Dodd, said in a statement, “The alternative offers a substantial benefit of being able to keep the science instruments on longer.” We’ve been observing the spacecraft for a few weeks, and it appears that this new strategy is effective.