NASA hacked a backup power source to run Voyager 2.
The switch is expected to keep the probe, launched in 1977, alive for another three years.
Together, Voyager 1 and 2 have traveled farther than any other spacecraft.
Voyager 2’s disappearance has been postponed after NASA found a way to hack into a backup power source to run the probe until 2026.
Voyager 1 and 2 provided crucial science information in their 45 years of spaceflight.
Today the probes travel in interstellar space, 12 and 14 billion miles from Earth. That’s farther than any spacecraft or man-made object has ever gone before.
“The scientific data that the Voyagers are returning becomes more valuable the farther they get from the sun,” said Linda Spilker, Voyager project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“We are very interested in keeping as many scientific instruments in operation for as long as possible.”
The probes have been traveling for 45 years
Voyager 1 and 2 departed a month apart in 1977. Initially the probes were set off on a four-year mission to pass Saturn and Jupiter. They were launched with a “golden record” with information that would give aliens information about Earth.
But the probes have continued to exceed expectations, and NASA has continually extended their missions, first to visit Neptune and Uranus, then to sail farther than any other probe: beyond the heliosphere.
The heliosphere is a bubble of particles and magnetic fields that extend out from the sun. This sphere is especially important to the Earth because it protects us from galactic cosmic radiation.
Since the probes are now located outside this heliosphere, their measurements provide unprecedented insight into the bubble’s properties, such as its shape and protective role.
NASA hacked the ancient probe’s power system
The probes are powered by generators that convert the heat of decaying plutonium into electricity. As this energy source weakens, NASA engineers have had to turn off nonessential instruments, such as cameras and spacecraft heaters, to conserve energy.
But as Voyager 2 was running into its last reserves of energy, NASA engineers came up with a clever trick that would allow it to survive a little longer.
They found a way to divert power from a safety mechanism designed to trip if the probe circuit malfunctions due to voltage changes.
“The variable voltages pose a risk to the instruments, but we’ve determined that it’s a small risk and the alternative offers a large reward for being able to keep science instruments powered on longer,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager at Voyager at JPL, reads a press release.
“We’ve been monitoring the spacecraft for a few weeks and it looks like this new approach is working.”
NASA may consider using it on Voyager 1. One of Voyager 1’s instruments previously malfunctioned, meaning the spacecraft didn’t expend as much energy as Voyager 2.
The decision to shut down the instruments for Voyager 1 will be made next year, according to the space agency.
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