A brand new “energy technique” will preserve Voyager 2 devices working for longer in outer area

Why it issues: After spending 45 years in area, the Voyager 2 mission remains to be going sturdy. Vitality provide is not what it was once, although, so NASA is engaged on new “methods” that may prolong the mission of the eternal area probe even additional.

Launched on August 20, 1977, simply 16 days earlier than its twin Voyager 1, the Voyager 2 area probe is now cruising outdoors the protecting bubble of the Photo voltaic System in a area often known as the heliosphere. The exploration mission lasted method longer than NASA deliberate, and it may even proceed for a lot of extra years to return if a brand new “energy technique” carried out by the area company seems to achieve success.

Proper now, Voyager 2 is using 5 totally different science devices to review the interstellar area outdoors the heliosphere’s magnetic bubble. The probe is powered by a set of three radioisotope thermoelectric turbines (RTG), that are primarily nuclear turbines that convert warmth from decaying plutonium-238 atoms into electrical energy.

After 45 years, the nuclear turbines of Voyager 2 can’t probably produce the identical quantity of vitality as earlier than. NASA was contemplating shutting down one of many devices to maintain the opposite 4 in working order, however the company in the end determined to attempt an alternate resolution that might preserve all of the 5 devices operating till no less than 2026.

NASA engineers have already turned off heaters and different “non-essential” elements of the Voyager 2 mission. Now, to keep away from shutting one of many probe’s science devices down, the company has determined to make use of a small quantity of backup energy from the RTG reserved to keep away from doubtlessly harmful voltage fluctuations.

Voyager 2 is supplied with a voltage regulator which triggers the backup circuit if a fluctuation in voltage is detected, NASA explains, defending the devices from injury. Even after greater than 45 years of flight, {the electrical} techniques on each Voyager probes have remained comparatively secure, so NASA thinks {that a} tighter voltage regulation will not be important anymore.

“Variable voltages pose a threat to the devices,” Voyager’s challenge supervisor at JPL Suzanne Dodd explains, however NASA has decided that it is a small threat price taking with the large reward of “with the ability to preserve the science devices turned on longer.” JPL has been monitoring the spacecraft flight for a couple of weeks, and the brand new method to energy consumption appears to be working as anticipated. The group will preserve monitoring electrical voltage to ultimately reply if it fluctuates an excessive amount of.

The Voyager mission was initially designed to final solely 4 years, sending the dual probes past fuel giants Saturn and Jupiter. NASA prolonged the mission to make Voyager 2 go to Neptune and Uranus, then prolonged the mission a second time in 1990 to ship the probes outdoors the heliosphere. Voyager 1 reached the outermost border of our Photo voltaic System’s magnetic affect in 2012, whereas Voyager 2 bought there (touring in a unique path with a decrease cruising velocity) six years later in 2018.

Peter Johnson