Monday, November 07, 2011
Voyager 2 Switches Thrusters to Conserve Energy
Just like many people do at that age, NASA’s 34-year old Voyager 2 space probe began to slow down. It’s not due to a reflection on the craft’s age, rather an energy saving protocol by the space agency to switch to a backup set of thrusters to save energy.
Voyager 2 has already travelled about 9 billion miles (14 billion kilometers) from Earth and is now beyond all the planets in our solar system. Both Voyager 2, and Voyager 1 are now in a region known as the heliosheath, the outermost portion of our solar system where the sun’s solar wind meet the interstellar medium.
As of this point on their journey neither craft has encountered an alien life form or been transformed into V’Ger, a destructive space probe sent back to earth in the 23rd Century to study mankind. The probe depicted in Star Trek: The Motion Picture was in fact Voyager 6, a fictional mission in the Voyager program.
Scientists at NASA's Deep Space Network sent the command to Voyager 2 on Nov. 4 to switch from its primary thrusters, which control the spacecraft's roll, to its backup set. They received a signal today (Nov. 7) confirming that the spacecraft had accepted the commands.
The change will save about 12 watts of power by allowing engineers to turn off the heater that keeps the fuel line to the primary thruster warm. With this energy efficient change, Voyager 2 should have enough power to operate for another decade, NASA officials said.
The Voyager probes launched in 1977 on a mission to survey Jupiter and Saturn, and managed to observe Uranus and Neptune as well. Voyager 1 is now the farthest manmade object in space, and the two probes are now on track to be the first spacecraft to study interstellar space.