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NASA Voyager will do more science with a new energy strategy

NASA Voyager will do more science with a new energy strategy

Joanna Campos 5 minutes
space tool
The Voyager 2 spacecraft, launched in 1977, is more than 20 billion kilometers from Earth.

The spacecraft was launched in 1977 Voyager 2 It is more than 20 billion kilometers from Earth. Using five scientific instruments to study interstellar space.

To help keep these devices working despite diminishing power supplies, Older spacecraft are starting to use up a small tank of energysaved as part of the on-board security mechanism.

This measure will allow the mission to delay closing a science instrument until 2026not this year.

the passenger

Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 are the only two spacecraft operating outside the heliosphere.the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields generated by the sun.

The probes help scientists answer questions about the shape of the heliosphere and its role in protecting the Earth. against energetic particles and other radiations in the interstellar medium.

The scientific data Voyagers return to becomes more valuable the further they get from the Sun.said Linda Spilker, Voyager project scientist NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratorywho manages the mission for NASA.

Each of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft is equipped with three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). RTGs power the spacecraft by converting the heat generated by the decay of plutonium-238 in electricity.

Sensor energy

Since both Voyager spacecraft are powered by RTGs, which convert heat from decaying plutonium into electricity, This constant decay process means that the generator produces slightly less energy each year.

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So far, the power supply shortage has not affected the mission’s science output, but to make up for the loss, Engineers have turned off heaters and other systems that are not essential to keeping the spacecraft running.

In search of a way to prevent the Voyager 2 science instrument from shutting down, The team took a closer look at a safety mechanism designed to protect the instruments in the event of spacecraft fatigue – Electricity flows – changes significantly.

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Since voltage fluctuation can damage tools, Voyager is equipped with a voltage regulator that triggers a backup circuit in that case. The circuit can access a small amount of power from the RTG intended for this. Instead of retaining that energy, The mission will now use it to keep the scientific instruments working.

The spacecraft’s voltage isn’t precisely regulated, though After more than 45 years of flying, The electrical systems of both probes remain relatively stablewhich reduces the need for a safety net.

The engineering team is also able to monitor the voltage and react if it fluctuates too much. If the new method works well for Voyager 2, the team could implement it on Voyager 1 as well.

More on the Voyager mission

The Voyager mission was originally scheduled to last only four years., and send both probes to Saturn and Jupiter. NASA has extended the mission until then Voyager 2 can visit Neptune and Uranus, and it remains the only spacecraft to have encountered ice giants.

The Voyager mission was designed with a smaller goal in scope and duration, and yet it has achieved, on a grand scale, everything that has been proposed since then.

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In 1990, NASA extended the mission again, this time with the goal of sending the probes outside the heliosphere. Voyager 1 reached the limit in 2012, while Voyager 2 (traveling slower and in a different direction than its twin) reached in 2018..