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NASA plans to keep the Voyager 2 spacecraft alive for much longer

NASA plans to keep the Voyager 2 spacecraft alive for much longer

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from: Tanya Banner

Illustration: NASA’s Voyager spacecraft in space. © dpa / John. Howard/NASA/JPL

NASA’s Voyager 2 space probe no longer produces enough electricity to power all scientific instruments. But the NASA team finds an innovative solution.

PASADENA – When they were launched in the summer of 1977, no one could have guessed how long the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 space probes would remain active. Two NASA probes have been flying through space for more than 45 years and have long since left the heliosphere. Experts recognize that it is a kind of protective covering made of particles and magnetic fields generated by the sun. The two spacecraft provide scientists with data on the shape of the heliosphere and its role in protecting Earth from radiation from space.

“The science data that Voyager sends back to Earth becomes more valuable as it travels farther from the sun,” said Linda Spilker, Voyager project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). communication. “We’re definitely interested in keeping as many scientific instruments as possible running for as long as possible.”

NASA’s Voyager 2 space probe has a power problem

More than 45 years after the spacecraft’s launch, the power source is slowly becoming problematic: Both Voyager probes are powered by a radionuclide battery (RTG), which converts heat from the radioactive decay of plutonium into energy. But every year the generator produces less electricity – which has not affected the scientific work of space probes so far. So far, heaters and other systems have been disabled to provide enough power for scientific instruments.

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But now it’s time for “Voyager 2”: After that, one of the five scientific instruments must be turned off in order to get enough power for the remaining instruments. With Voyager 1, that problem won’t appear until next year, as there are still four active instruments on the probe — one of which has already failed at the start of the mission.

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NASA team finds a solution: Voyager 2 receives backup power

When searching for a way to save electricity to keep valuable scientific data flowing, a team from JPL has indeed found a solution. In the future, Voyager 2 will receive backup power from a safety mechanism designed to compensate for voltage fluctuations on board, so that all five science instruments continue to function. “Even after more than 45 years, the electrical systems of both probes remain relatively stable, so no safety net is required,” says the JPL statement. In addition, the engineering team can monitor the voltage from the ground and react if it fluctuates too much.

“We found that the risks are low and that the alternative offers a big reward because science instruments can last longer,” said Susan Dodd, Voyager project leader at JPL. “We’ve been monitoring the probe for a few weeks, and this new approach seems to be working.” If the new power-saving measure proves successful, it should also be applied to Voyager 1 once power supplies there become scarce.

The Voyager mission originally lasted only four years

The two Voyager space probes are to be active for only four years and during this time they are to visit the planets Saturn and Jupiter. After NASA’s mission extension, Voyager 2 visited the ice giants Neptune and Uranus and is still considered the only spacecraft to have visited the two giant ice planets. Just a few years ago, researchers found evidence of a special phenomenon on the planet Uranus in old data from the Voyager 2 probe. (unpaid bill)