From now on, the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes will be less precisely aligned with Earth in order to transmit scientific data and receive commands. This is intended to protect the motors because they have to be energized less often. Otherwise, the small fuel lines directly into the engines are at risk of clogging, NASA now explains. The space agency says the new approach will ensure this does not happen for at least another five years. In addition, more precautionary measures to increase lifespan could be envisaged. At the same time, a patch was sent to Voyager 2 with the update, which aims to prevent the worrying software issue from occurring again.
In general, more data is expected
As NASA now explains in light of the update, the new approach to aligning the probes is intended to protect small inlet tubes that are 25 times narrower than fuel supply lines. Every time the engines are turned on to point the probe and its antennas toward Earth, small amounts of debris accumulate there. Over the decades, so much material has accumulated that there is a risk of blockage. In order to delay this, the decision was made to run the engines less frequently. The probes must now rotate one degree in all directions before the motors turn on.
NASA admits that if Voyager 1 and 2 no longer target Earth with such precision in the future, the data they collect and send back to us will sometimes be lost. But the responsible team decided that more data could be expected overall if the investigations remained active for a longer period. But it is said that you can’t tell when small entrances are blocked. However, the options available to postpone this at least have not been exhausted. Administrators will always come up with creative solutions to problems that arise during assignments. Both probes have exceeded their planned service life tenfold.
Part of the update that has now been sent to investigations is also a patch aimed at ensuring that a software issue that caused major concern a year ago does not occur. Because the on-board computer responsible for orbit control (AACS) passed the telemetry data through another computer, which was falsified, incorrect data reached Earth. Then the less risky solution worked and the data took the right track again. The patch installed now is now an insurance policy to completely rule out recurrence. It takes more than a week to download and then verify the update due to long signal delays. Voyager 2 takes first place.
The two Voyager probes were launched 16 days apart in 1977, and were able to take advantage of a rare constellation in which the four largest planets in the solar system came particularly close to each other. Both visited Jupiter for the first time and gained momentum from it to Saturn, where their paths diverged: Voyager 1 launched from the level of the solar system, and Voyager 2 to Uranus and Neptune. Originally only a four-year mission was planned, but it has now been on the road for 45 years and is still active. The Voyager program has long been one of NASA’s greatest successes. In the spring, the probes were instructed to tap reserve power so they could stay active longer.
October 23, 2023
The patch was first sent to Voyager 2, where it is being tested. This has been corrected.
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