NASA found a novel way to keep Voyager 2 spacecraft going

NASA’s long-running spacecraft Voyager 2 will be able to continue its operations for years longer than anticipated with a new power strategy.

NASA launched the Voyager 2 in 1977 to orbit the outer edge of the solar system 12 billion miles away from Earth, using five different instruments to study space. As the spacecraft’s power source has started to dwindle, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has found a solution by using the spacecraft’s backup reservoir of power, which NASA says will keep Voyager 2 in space until at least 2026 instead of this year.

According to NASA, Voyager 2 and its twin Voyager 1 are the only spacecraft that have ever operated outside of the Earth’s heliosphere, which is a bubble of particles generated by the Sun around itself and its planets.

“The science data that the Voyagers are returning gets more valuable the farther away from the Sun they go, so we are definitely interested in keeping as many science instruments operating as long as possible,” Linda Spilker, Voyager’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said in a statement.

Scientists turned off the heaters and other non-essential systems on both of the spacecrafts to also preserve power, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Scientists were considering shutting down one of the five instruments on Voyager 2 to conserve power, but instead were able to tap into the backup power reservoir.

According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Voyager’s electrical systems and voltages have remained stable for the last 45 years, which minimizes the need for a “safety net” that the backup power supply provided. If the new solution works with Voyager 2, the scientists may try to apply to same method to Voyager 1, which has only four instruments.

“Variable voltages pose a risk to the instruments, but we’ve determined that it’s a small risk, and the alternative offers a big reward of being able to keep the science instruments turned on longer,” Suzanne Dodd, Voyager’s project manager at the laboratory, said in a statement. “We’ve been monitoring the spacecraft for a few weeks, and it seems like this new approach is working.”

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