Engineers have begun using a backup power supply on the Voyager-2 spacecraft — launched in 1977 and presently traveling in interstellar space — in order to extend the life of one of its five instruments one additional year.
To help keep those instruments operating despite a diminishing power supply, the aging spacecraft has begun using a small reservoir of backup power set aside as part of an onboard safety mechanism. The move will enable the mission to postpone shutting down a science instrument until 2026, rather than this year.
The solution is only temporary, as the end of the mission is inevitable as its radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) was only designed to provide power for about a half century (!). As time passes its power supply slowly declines, forcing engineers in recent years to shut down other systems to allow the science instruments to operate. That all the other systems on both Voyager-1 and Voyager-2 remained operational until the end of their RTGs tells us how well these spacecraft were built by their 1970s creators.
Assuming this works, engineers will do the same thing on Voyager-1 sometime next year. In both cases, however, power from the RTGs will likely run out entire sometime in the next 5-10 years, ending the missions.
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