NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft, after spending an impressive 46 years in deep space, are beginning to show signs of wear and aging. These pioneering spacecraft, which have provided invaluable data about our solar system and beyond, are experiencing various technical difficulties that could potentially end their mission.
The computers on board the Voyagers are behaving unpredictably, causing concern for the team of engineers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In addition, the spacecraft’s thrusters are wearing out, and their fuel lines are becoming clogged. These issues have resulted in around half of the science instruments on the Voyagers no longer returning data and declining power levels.
However, despite these challenges, the dedicated team at JPL is determined to prolong the mission and gather as much valuable data as possible. The Voyagers are currently focused on studying cosmic rays, the magnetic field, and the plasma environment in interstellar space, although they are no longer capable of capturing photographs.
An especially significant milestone for the Voyagers is that they have both surpassed the heliopause, the boundary where the Sun’s solar wind meets the interstellar medium. This achievement has allowed for groundbreaking discoveries about the space beyond our solar system.
One of the recent steps taken to address the computer issues on Voyager 2, which have been ongoing since 2022, was the uplink of a software patch by ground controllers at JPL. This patch will also be sent to Voyager 1, which is even deeper into interstellar space.
Additionally, engineers have developed a new method for operating the thrusters on both spacecraft to prevent the fuel lines from becoming completely blocked. While this change may result in occasional loss of science data, it will enable the Voyagers to continue operating for at least five more years and possibly even longer.
The team of engineers at NASA is now facing unprecedented challenges in their mission to extend the Voyagers’ lifespan. Innovative solutions must be developed to overcome the technical difficulties and ensure that these long-lasting spacecraft continue to provide vital insights into the mysteries of deep space.