The Voyager 2 spacecraft is the second of two NASA deep-space probes launched in August 1977. The NASA probe reached the edge of the solar system in December 2018, escaping the Sun’s influence and entering interstellar space.
But on January 25 this year, Voyager 2 triggered an automatic fault protection routine, signalling to NASA something had gone wrong.
Both the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were programmed to initiate protective routines in the events of a hazardous situation arising.
Last week, Voyager 2 failed to perform a scheduled manoeuvre to rotate by 360 degrees.
NASA’s scientists at the California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) are now attempting to correct the error and bring Voyager 2 back online.
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Voyager 2 location: Where is the Voyager space probe now?
Launched in 1977, both Voyager probes are now hurtling through interstellar space, making them the most distant man-made objects from Earth.
On January 30, at 12.26pm GMT (7.26am EST), NASA tracked Voyager 2 at nearly 11.5 billion miles from Earth.
At the same time, the spacecraft was approximately 11.42 billion miles from the Sun.
The Voyager 1 probe, was tracked to about 13.8 billion miles from Earth and 13.77 billion miles from the Sun.
In respect to the Sun, Voyager 2 is currently flying through space at breakneck speeds of about 34,390mph.
Voyager 1 is flying through interstellar space at speeds of about 38,026mph.
This caused the spacecraft to overdraw its available power supply
At these incredible distances, even communications travelling at the speed of light take 17 hours to reach Voyager 2 from Earth.
NASA scientists on Earth then need to wait another 17 hours for the probe to respond and the response times will only grow longer in time.
NASA said: “As a result, mission engineers have to wait about 34 hours to find out if their commands have had the desired effect on the spacecraft.”
Since launching, the 1,592-pound Voyager 2 has visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
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Can NASA save the Voyager 2 probe?
According to the US space agency, initial analysis of the spacecraft’s failure suggests the probe has overdrawn its power reserves.
On Saturday, January 25, the spacecraft was scheduled to perform a calibrating manoeuvre for its onboard magnetic field instrument.
However, an unexplained delay in the manoeuvre caused two other systems to simultaneously operate at high power levels.
NASA said: “This caused the spacecraft to overdraw its available power supply.”
In a bid to prevent the probe from dying, pre-programmed systems shut down Voyager’s scientific instruments to preserve power.
On January 28, NASA’s engineers have managed to restore one of the high-power systems to life, but the instrument is yet to resume recording data.
NASA said: “Voyager’s power supply comes from a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG), which turns heat from the decay of a radioactive material into electricity to power the spacecraft.
“Due to the natural decay of the material inside the RTG, Voyager 2’s power budget goes down by about four watts per year.
“Last year, engineers turned off the primary heater for the Voyager 2 cosmic ray subsystem instrument in order to compensate for this power loss, and the instrument continues to operate
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