NASA is fixing a Voyager 2 snag that deactivated sensors

Pablo Tucker
January 31, 2020

But on January 25 this year, Voyager 2 triggered an automatic fault protection routine, signalling to NASA something had gone wrong.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft suffered a glitch over the weekend, according to a news release from NASA, but the probe is now recovering and will soon resume scientific activities.

Careful energy management is important for both Voyager probes as they enter their fifth decade of service. This is a machine from the 1970s after all, and it's 11.5 billion miles away. This is one of five instruments still operating on the probe.

The most distant messengers of humanity in the universe are NASA's Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft, which are now exploring interstellar space. Analysis of the telemetry from the spacecraft indicated that an unexplained delay in the onboard execution of the maneuver commands inadvertently left two systems that consume relatively high levels of power operating at the same time. It loses about 4W of available power per year, forcing the team to shut off equipment as the demands become too much to handle.


The Voyager 2 spacecraft is the second of two NASA deep-space probes launched in August 1977. The onboard software made a decision to offset this power deficit by shutting down the five scientific instruments still working.

The thrusters on both spacecraft are also degrading.

Artist's illustration of NASA's Voyager spacecraft.

NASA engineers shut down one of the power-hungry systems and turned the science instruments back on. Voyager's instruments provided crucial data as the spacecraft crossed this final boundary, and continue to do so as they fly outward into the interstellar medium.


NASA said: "Voyager's power supply comes from a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which turns heat from the decay of a radioactive material into electricity to power the spacecraft". For example, they disabled the heater on the cosmic ray subsystem instrument to save power. Engineers did the same thing with thrusters on Voyager 1 in 2017.

Both spacecraft are now in interstellar space. The spacecraft's energy availability is reduced a little every year, but it is still collecting data to help scientists learn about what is happening on the edge of our solar system. Each command takes 17 hours to reach Voyager 2, and the confirmation takes 17 hours to come back.

In respect to the Sun, Voyager 2 is now flying through space at breakneck speeds of about 34,390mph.


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