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NASA discovers a new trick to continue its work – digital pioneers

NASA discovers a new trick to continue its work – digital pioneers

NASA Voyager probe

The Voyager probes have now been deployed more than 10 times longer than planned. (Illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech Photojournal)

Voyager 2 was launched in 1977 and is still in service. To keep it that way, NASA came up with some ideas.

The Voyager 2 probe, which was launched in 1977, is located about 20 billion km from Earth. A new breakthrough allows NASA to further extend the mission, which for years threatened to run out of capacity. This means that engineers can continue to run all the instruments on the probe – as this is becoming increasingly important.



The Voyager mission has been running for more than 40 years

This should make possible a new energy saving procedure and backup power utilization. The latter is available on board as a safety mechanism to ensure the power supply. The system protects Voyager 2 from voltage fluctuations.

The new hack takes a small amount of electricity from this grid, and so can keep the five scientific instruments running longer. Administrator Writes NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).: “Although the spacecraft’s electrical voltage is not tightly regulated, the two vehicles’ electrical systems remain relatively stable even after more than 45 years in flight, reducing the need for a safety net.”

The results are more important than the already small risks of voltage spikes, which is why JPL decided to go this route. “We’ve been monitoring the spacecraft for a few weeks now and this new approach seems to be working,” says Susan Dodd, Voyager project manager at JPL.



Generators are done, but not finished yet

Voyager power is generated by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators, which convert heat from decaying plutonium-238 into electrical energy. The continued decay of this method means that generators are producing less of it each year. In the past, JPL has turned off heaters and other systems to save electricity.

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Linda Spilker, project scientist, explains why this is important: “The science data provided by the Voyager probes becomes more valuable the further they get from the sun. So we are very careful to get as many science instruments working as possible.”