NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft will be able to continue operations for many years longer than expected with a new energy strategy.
NASA launched Voyager 2 in 1977 to orbit the outer edge of the solar system 12 billion miles from Earth, using five different instruments to study space. As the spacecraft’s power supply began to dwindle, so did NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory It found a solution using the spacecraft’s backup power tank, which NASA says will keep Voyager 2 in space until at least 2026 instead of this year.
According to NASA, Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 are the only two spacecraft that have operated outside of Earth’s heliosphere, which is the bubble of particles the sun generates around itself and its planets.
“The science data that Voyagers bring back becomes more valuable the farther it gets from the sun, so we’re definitely interested in keeping as many science instruments as possible running for as long as possible,” Linda Spilker, Voyager project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, IN statement.
Scientists have turned off heaters and other non-essential systems on both spacecraft to conserve energy as well, according to JPL. Scientists were considering shutting down one of the five instruments on Voyager 2 to conserve power, but instead they were able to tap into a backup power tank.
According to JPL, Voyager’s electrical and voltage systems have remained stable over the past 45 years, reducing the need for a “safety net” provided by the backup power source. If the new solution works for Voyager 2, the scientists might try applying the same method to Voyager 1, which has only four instruments.
“Variable voltages pose a risk to the instruments, but we determined that it is a small risk, and the alternative offers a huge reward in the ability to keep scientific instruments turned on for longer,” Susan Dodd, Voyager project manager at the lab said in a statement. “We’ve been monitoring the spacecraft for a few weeks, and this new approach seems to be working.”
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