To keep NASA’s Voyager probes, launched 42 years ago to study the solar system’s gas giant planets, operational in interstellar space for as long as possible, mission scientists are making tough decisions to propel the spacecraft even further.
It’s one that has required mission managers to turn off some of the probes’ instruments and thrusters in an effort to preserve power.
That electricity powers heaters, which keep science instruments and thrusters warm, enabling both spacecraft to continue pointing their antennas to Earth to return data.
In spite of their diminishing power, both spacecraft and their science instruments remain operational.
Knowing the Voyagers‘ power is diminishing, mission scientists and engineers have come up with a power management plan that will ration power by turning off selected instruments and thrusters.
The first action in that plan involved turning off a heater that powered a cosmic ray subsystem instrument (CRS) on Voyager 2, which detects fast-moving particles originating either from the Sun or beyond the solar system.
In 2017, after discovering a weakening of Voyager 1‘s thrusters, mission engineers decided to power up another set of thrusters that had not been used in 37 years.