Voyager 2 refuses to accept old age: risk turning off voltage regulator, can keep all scientific instruments running until 2026

IT Home News on May 3, the Voyager 2 space probe is one of the greatest scientific instruments in human history. It is not only the only probe that has visited Uranus and Neptune, but also the second to cross the boundary of the solar system and enter the interstellar space. Space detector. However, the veteran, which launched in 1977, faced an energy crisis, and in order to continue sending back valuable scientific data, the project team had to make a difficult decision: turn off a voltage regulator that protected the instrument from voltage fluctuations.

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Voyager 2 is powered by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs), which convert heat from the decay of plutonium-238 into electricity. Since plutonium-238 has a half-life of 88 years, much of the plutonium has decayed, and Voyager 2’s current 470 watts of power at launch have dropped by about 30%. To conserve energy, NASA has gradually turned off heaters, main thrusters and other systems on Voyager 2 that are no longer needed, but the process cannot go on indefinitely. At least one science instrument is expected to be shut down this year, but Voyager 2 project scientist Dr. Spielke and her team discovered a trick:A voltage regulator that provides a stable voltage to the instrument can be turned off first.

Turning off the voltage regulators carries some risk with all five science instruments, but Dr. Spielk believes it is more worthwhile than turning off one of the science instruments. “Voyagers return scientific data that is more valuable the farther away from the sun they are, so we’re definitely interested in keeping as many science instruments running as possible,” Dr Spielke said in a statement. After several weeks of experimentation, the operator decided to permanently shut down the voltage regulator.

This operation will allow Voyager 2 to continue to keep all scientific instruments running until 2026, when it will still face the choice of which instrument to shut down unless another way can be figured out. Voyager 1 required slightly less power than Voyager 2 because it had an instrument that failed early on. If turning off the voltage regulator worked for Voyager 2, the same might be done for Voyager 1 next year.

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