NASA 'Trick' Boosts Voyager 2's Life by 3 Years

Space agency figured out a way to fiddle with the spacecraft's power
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 28, 2023 1:36 PM CDT
NASA Adds 3 Years to Voyager 2's Life
This undated handout provided by NASA shows the Voyager Golden Record. NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft launched in August and September 1977.   (AP Photo/NASA)

NASA has found a way to keep Voyager 2 fully operational until 2026 by adding a new power source, reports Business Insider. Forty-five years after the probe's launch, the move described as a "technical trick" by means V2 won't have to shut down one of five scientific instruments as planned. Twin space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 have collected a great deal of important science data across the decades, traveling billions of miles from Earth, and the information they return grows in value as they move further away.

A NASA news release describes Voyager 2's "radioisotope thermoelectric generators," which keep it moving by heat conversion, utilizing the power of plutonium decay. Due to that decay, the generators have slowly lowered their output, and techs have had to compensate by switching off nonessential systems. Voyager 2 has run out of systems to deactivate in order to preserve power, so technicians shifted a backup circuit's voltage regulator from passive power reserve usage to active power, adding up to three years of operation life. Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd said in NASA's release that voltage variations "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."

NASA's history of the probes details how Voyagers 1 and 2 were launched in 1977. Today they are the only spacecraft to have visited all of our solar system's gas giants—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. At 14 billion miles away, Voyager 1 is the farthest spacecraft from Earth (V2 is 12 billion miles away) and still transmitting data back to Earth. The support teams at NASA will have address its power issues next year, when it is expected to encounter the same power decline just temporarily repaired for Voyager 2.
(More NASA stories.)

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