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Why NASA is Shutting Down Voyager 2 Systems As It Rises Into Interstellar Space



L The engineers at NASA managed to fly the spacecraft Voyager 1 and 2 for almost 42 years in 1977 – longer than any other spaceship in history. But as NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced on July 8, it's time to turn off parts of Voyager 2.

Voyager 2 is more than 18.2 billion kilometers from Earth, but moves at 34,391 miles per hour – that's 16 kilometers per second. The distance is increasing rapidly. According to Voyager 1, in December 2018, it was the second man-made object that penetrated the so-called interstellar space. This happened when it broke through the heliosphere, the bubble of ionized particles that surrounds the solar system.

And it still sends back data collected by radio telescopes in Australia.

But to make sure these vintage probes work As mission engineers continue to deliver the best possible scientific data from outer space, they had to implement a new plan to manage them. Difficult decisions must be made, especially with regard to instruments and engines.

  Voyager 2 continues to return data from five instruments as it travels through interstellar space.

A key problem with both Voyager vehicles is that they have less and less power available over time to power their scientific instruments and the heaters they keep in the cold of space. The engineers had to decide which parts to power and which parts of both spacecraft had to be turned off.

However, these decisions must be made earlier for Voyager 2 than for Voyager 1 because Voyager 2 has a scientific instrument that collects data and draws power as its sibling.

  Some statistics for Voyager 2 left the heliosphere and were officially entered interstellar space
Some statistics on Voyager 2 left the heliosphere and officially entered interstellar space announced Monday that a Cosmic Ray Subsystem Instrument (CRS) heater on Voyager 2 was shut down as part of the new energy management plan. The Cosmic Radiation Instrument played a key role last November in determining that Voyager 2 had left the heliosphere. Since then, the two Voyager have returned details of how our heliosphere interacts with the wind flowing in space.

Why did it have to be the Cosmic Ray Subsystem Instrument?

According to JPL, members of the mission team may now provisionally confirm that Voyager's CRS still returns data, though it drops to -59 ° C (-74 ° F). This is lower than the temperatures at which the CRS was tested more than 42 years ago (down to -45 ° C). So it already exceeds expectations.

However, the operation of heaters and instruments requires power that is steadily declining on both voyagers.

Each of the probes is powered by three thermoelectric radioisotope generators (RTGs) that generate heat over nature, decaying plutonium-238 radioisotopes and converting that heat into electrical energy. As plutonium heat energy decreases in RTGs and their internal efficiency decreases over time, each spacecraft generates about 4 watts less electrical energy each year. This means that the generators produce about 40% less than they did almost 42 years ago, which limits the number of systems that can run on the spacecraft.

For example, when fuel lines propel the engines that hold the spacecraft to freeze, the Voyager's antennas could stop pointing to the earth. This would prevent engineers from sending orders to the spacecraft or receiving scientific data.

The mission's new energy management plan explores several options for dealing with the declining energy supply of both spacecraft, including shutting down additional instrument heaters in the coming years. JPL engineers will try to ensure that both spacecraft can collect data from interstellar space in the coming years. It is hoped that Voyager 2 will continue to broadcast weak radio messages by the mid-2020s.

  Voyager's previous voyage (Distances are given in astronomical units or AUs)
The Voyager's previous voyage (Distances are in astronomical Units or AUs given)

What does the universe have in store for Voyager?

Voyager 2 does not face any particular star, although in about 42,000 years it will be 1.7 light-years away from the little red dwarf Ross 248, located in the northern constellation of Andromeda. If the probe is undisturbed for 296,000 years, Voyager 2 should be 4,3 light-years from the star Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. About 100,000 years later, it is brushed by two stars, Delta Pavonis and Gliese 754.

It is possible that Voyager 2 survived humanity.

After leaving the heliosphere and entering interstellar space, the next cosmological phenomenon, Voyager 2 will encounter the Oort cloud in 300 years. Unfortunately, that will take a long time until the energy is used up.

The Oort Cloud is a theoretical cloud of predominantly icy planetesimals believed to surround the Sun at distances of up to 200,000 AU (3.2 light-years). The outer boundary of the Oort cloud defines the boundary of the solar system, since it is assumed that the gravitational influence of our sun ends here. But it's a big cloud, and it'll take over 30,000 years for Voyager 2 to get through.

Alone Up There in the Dark

Both spaceships have awakened the imagination of scientists and science fiction writers alike. It's not surprising when you take a moment to introduce yourself to a deep, completely unknown Space race. Maybe forever.

One of the best-known examples is Star Trek: The Motion Picture which was published in 1979. In this movie, the first of the films of Star Trek the crew of the Enterprise must determine the purpose of a huge alien spaceship threatening to wipe out all life on Earth. And as you know, in the heart of this huge alien ship is a Voyager probe. (Actually, it's a fiction called Voyager 6, but that's secondary.)

  Voyager 6 gained so much knowledge that it gained consciousness and self-awareness.
Voyager 6 gained so much knowledge that it gained consciousness and became self-aware. CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Kirk, McCoy, Spock, et al. To her astonishment, discover that this Voyager spacecraft disappeared into a black hole during its mission and emerged on the other side of the galaxy, where it fell into the gravitational field of a planet populated by a race of living machines.

The locals thought that the probe was one of their own species – primitive yet related. When the machines discovered the simple twentieth-century programming that instructed Voyager to collect all sorts of data and return that information to the Creator, they literally interpreted it and built a massive vessel around the probe to simplify this instruction.

On his journey to Earth, it gained so much knowledge that it gained consciousness itself and became a living thing.

Until you can check the speed and trajectory of Voyager 1 and 2 in real time on the NASA mission status page.


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