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In recognition that the available power on both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 continues to drop due to the age of the spacecraft, engineers have decided to make some major changes in how they operate both spacecraft.
For example, to save power on Voyager 2 they have turned off the heaters for the instrument that confirmed last year that the spacecraft had entered interstellar space. Even so, the instrument is still functioning and sending back data. It is expected it will continue to work for some time before finally succumbing to the cold of deep space.
They have also decided to reactivate the back-up thrusters on Voyager 2, just as they did with Voyager 1 in 2017.
Another challenge that engineers have faced is managing the degradation of some of the spacecraft thrusters, which fire in tiny pulses, or puffs, to subtly rotate the spacecraft. This became an issue in 2017, when mission controllers noticed that a set of thrusters on Voyager 1 needed to give off more puffs to keep the spacecraft’s antenna pointed at Earth. To make sure the spacecraft could continue to maintain proper orientation, the team fired up another set of thrusters on Voyager 1 that hadn’t been used in 37 years.
Voyager 2’s current thrusters have started to degrade, too. Mission managers have decided to make the same thruster switch on that probe this month. Voyager 2 last used these thrusters (known as trajectory correction maneuver thrusters) during its encounter with Neptune in 1989.
It is thirty years since those thusters on Voyager 2’s were used. If they work it will be an incredible testament to the engineers who designed both spacecraft.