Voyager’s Backup Thrusters Ignited for Deep Space Eternity

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NASA has announced that Voyager 2 has successfully switched to the backup set of thrusters that controls the roll of the spacecraft. Deep Space Network personnel sent commands to the spacecraft to make the change on Nov. 4 and received confirmation today that the switch has been made, which allows the spacecraft to use previously unused thrusters as it continues its journey toward interstellar space, beyond our solar system.


Voyager 2 is currently located about 9 billion miles (14 billion kilometers) from Earth in the heliosheath — the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind, which streams out from the sun, is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas.

The change allows engineers to reduce the amount of power that the 34-year-old spacecraft needs to operate by turning off the heater that keeps the fuel to the primary thrusters warm. Although the rate of energy generated by Voyager 2's nuclear power source continues to decline, by reducing its power requirements, engineers expect the spacecraft can continue to operate for another decade.

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are each equipped with six sets, or pairs, of thrusters to control the pitch, yaw and roll motions of the spacecraft. These include three pairs of primary thrusters and three backup, or redundant, pairs. Both spacecraft are now using all three sets of their backup thrusters.

The image top of page shows clouds in Neptune's atmosphere in fly-by of Voyager narrow-angle
camera. Three of the four targeted features are visible in this photograph; all three are close to their predicted locations. The Great Dark Spot with its bright white companion is slightly to the left of center. The small bright Scooter is below and to the left, and the second dark spot with its bright core is below the Scooter. Strong eastward winds — up to 400 mph — cause the second dark spot to overtake and pass the larger one every five days. The spacecraft was 6.1 million kilometers (3.8 million miles) from the planet.

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The Daily Galaxy via JPL/NASA

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