back to article NASA tells Voyager 2 to save its strength

Voyager 2 is conserving energy by using its back-up thrusters as it continues to boldly go where no spaceship has gone before. The second of NASA's explorers of the space beyond our solar system has accepted commands from the space agency's Deep Space Network personnel to switch to the back-up thrusters that control the roll …


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  1. Andy Farley


    Remember when the idea of spaceflight was romantic?

  2. The Nameless Mist

    Enhanced Probe or Space Alien Gunnery Target?

    So .. what are we ceeding on our decendants?

    - A super trancendentally evolving probe that returns to us in a few centuries to find us still punting bits of junk into low orbit, at which point it scans us and disappears into some higher dimensional state?

    - A bit of interstellar garbage for some space alien to take a pot-shot at

    - A lure that will bring untold woe when brain-sucking aliens follow its helpful "come see us soon" information plaque.

  3. UkForest
    Thumb Up

    "Right now, Voyager 2 is located around 14 billion kilometres from Earth in the heliosheath"

    Just thinking about the sheer distance involved and sending Voyager a message, it acting on it and confirming this back, just makes my mind boggle!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yep, either way we're knackered. Whats wrong with sending out a probe just to record data?

    2. Graham Bartlett

      "brain-sucking aliens"

      Won't get more than a light snack down here then.

      (That's not a demon head, that's a red space ship with a pair of laser guns and a pair of searchlights...)

    3. David Gosnell


      It's about a 26 hour round trip, just about bearable for unambiguous commands with a reasonable confidence of correct response. Would have thought it would be longer than that, in fairness. Not too bad a routine for the techs: come into the office, send a message, pick up the reply a little later the next day.

    4. JasonH

      Just under 13 hours..

      .. to send a message to it (at the speed of light), and a further 13 hours to receive it's reply - one whole Earth day and a couple of hours on top to await each response. That's one hell of a round trip time. The latency on the console must be awful...

      Nasa's web page on this project show it travelling at over 56,000 kph (35,000 mph). You won't get that kind of speed on the M25 during a busy afternoon, I can tell you...

      1. FredScummer
        Paris Hilton

        Just Remember

        When these voyagers were sent on their way in 1977 the 14k4 modem hadn't been born. Even a 300 baud modem was rocket science (hmm, pun intended I think...) back in those days. But what I'm surprised about is that they found room for an old GPO telephone handset so that they could attach the suckers.

        Sorry, I'm getting old. Way to go Voyagers!

        Paris, because I mentioned suckers and I think I'd be happy if she were a sucker.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Just thinking about the sheer distance involved..."

      Lucky it was sent BEFORE Windows was written !

    6. Simon_E

      Mind duly boggled.

      14,000,000,000 kilometres* turns out to be 12.97 light-hours.

      *we should be using megametres at these distances, surely...

    7. fishman


      I figure it takes about 13 hours for messages to get to or from Voyager. Pretty bad network latency. ;)

      1. IE User


        C:\>ping -w 100000000

        Pinging [] with 32 bytes of data:

        Reply from bytes=32 time=93600000ms TTL=56

        Reply from bytes=32 time=93600000ms TTL=56

        Reply from bytes=32 time=93600000ms TTL=56

        Reply from bytes=32 time=93600000ms TTL=56

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Pinging Voyager

          Well I pinged that address and got nothing...So I guess it has just turned off the reply to save even more power...aha....WTF It's coming back at us....Turn your iphones off nowwwwwww

          Pinging [] with 32 bytes of data:

          Reply from bytes=32 time=1005400000ms TTL=56

          Reply from bytes=32 time=1005400000ms TTL=56

          Reply from bytes=32 time=1005400000ms TTL=56

          Reply from bytes=32 time=93600000ms TTL=56

          Reply from bytes=32 time=93600000ms TTL=56

          Reply from bytes=32 time=93600000ms TTL=56

          Reply from bytes=32 time=93600000ms TTL=56

          Reply from bytes=32 time=84500000ms TTL=56

          Reply from bytes=32 time=49200000ms TTL=56

          Reply from bytes=32 time=25900000ms TTL=56

          Reply from bytes=32 time=10200000ms TTL=56

          Reply from bytes=32 time=3600000ms TTL=56

        2. Yag


          The launch of Voyager 2 occured 6 years before PING was even invented.

          And ethernet itself was brand new high tech on those days...

          it leave me almost speechless to consider the huge technological gap we jumped in about a single generation...

        3. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Ping times

          It's travelling away from us at about 15.5km/s, so ping times will be increasing with roughly 50ns per second. 20 pings and you'd see the last digit change (dismissing normal network delay variability)

        4. stu 4

          nice. I like it

          u could probably reduce that TTL safely. Or has it been dropping routers on the way out ?


          p.s. I reckon I could actually win against voyager2 in COD MW3 with that ping!

      2. jonathanb Silver badge

        Still a heck of a lot faster than getting a reply back from EDF's customer services department in Exeter.

        1. we all know how irritating it is having to interact with the shopkeeper in any way


          You've had a reply?

          Lucky bar steward.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Pretty bad network latency

        you don't have talktalk do you?

      4. RightPaddock

        I guess they're using OS/360 ;)

    8. bazza Silver badge

      Not commonplace yet

      I still think that any manned space flight is very impressive. I think even you would be impressed if you were strapped to the top of rocket with the fuse lit and the sky beckoning!

      Terry Pratchett in one of his book pointed out just how weird we are. Boredom - we're the only species to have it so bad that walking on the moon became not worth the TV air time after just two landings.

      NASA have been stunningly successful in their unmanned program. Pretty much all of their deep space probes have sent back amazing results. And in the case of Voyager, it still is.

      1. Steve Evans

        Not always, they've had some superb failures too... Like mixing up the units for the mars probe, and smashing it into the surface, or did it miss the planet entirely? Can't remember which.

        I really have no idea what kind of crazy fool would even think of doing scientific calculations with imperial units, but it appears NASA do/did.

        1. Denarius Silver badge

          imperial units ?

          AFAIK, the calculations were outsourced... Nuff sed. Imperial units would be appropriate if Darth was the project manager though

          Mines the one with the Star Ship Troopers in the left pocket

        2. ian 22

          Consider the difficulties inherent in Roman numerals.. V, IV, III, II, I, .... Liftoff!

          1. atomic jam

            Re: Consider the difficulties inherent in Roman numerals

            Vee, aye vee, aye aye aye, aye aye, aye......Blastoff!

            1. Steve Evans

              @atomic jam

              You appear to have a Jewish Scotsman doing your countdown!

      2. Anonymous John

        Yet some people will happily watch 22 men kicking a pig's bladder round a field every week.

    9. Marketing Hack Silver badge

      Even more impressive....

      NASA didn't get "the party you have called has left the area of cellphone reception. Please call again later!"

      Does Voyager have the old pre-MCI AT&T contract or something, when Ma Bell ruled the universe??

    10. Anonymous Coward


      Now THAT makes my mind boggle....

      How does that relate to making Space Exploration Safer??

  4. fLaMePrOoF

    Instant remote control

    In relation to the challenge of controlling a space probe at such great distances; I believe it would actually be possible (not necessarily practical) to use a series of on board 'delayed choice' experiments to issue instantaneous binary commands to a remote space probe, effectively bypassing the traditional dimensional limitations of space & time.


  5. Gary F
    Thumb Up

    Damn, it's 34 years old and still going!

    NASA should be making cars, computers and toasters. If only those worked flawlessly for 10 years, nevermind 34 years!

    By my calculation a command takes 13 hours to travel from Earth to Voyager's current location. So NASA have to wait at least 26 hours after transmission to see if Voyager received it!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If 12 watts of power will last 10 years

    I'm gunna ask nasa if they have any ideas to keep my electricity bill down

  7. wiggers

    Just waiting for...

    ...the clunk. You know, like in The Truman Show.

    1. Ryan 7

      If you want NASA to make toasters,

      They probably would last 34 years, be prepared to pay between $100,000 and $10,000,000 per slice, depending on how thick the bread is and how far you want it to pop up.

    2. Glen 1 Bronze badge

      mdk2 reference:

      atomic toaster + bread = atomic toast :)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      12w is only the reduction on total power (The power plant is fading over time) reducing the load will enable it too keep running without browning out. As the power plant and supply fades you have to keep turning the power drain down by turning things off..

      Voyage was able to produce 470W at launch now it is down to just 270W


      Note that the 200 watts lost over 34 years is on a diminishing scale, not linear (meaning less is lost each year) so this 12w saving will last longer than it may appear.

    4. Stoneshop Silver badge


      Would it launch your bread into geostationary orbit?

    5. Reginald Gerard

      I have a Panasonic rice cooker

      that a GF gave me as a going away present some 31 years ago. Still working, only the neon control light has failed.

  8. PassiveSmoking
    Thumb Up

    Badass probe

    Voyager 2 is the Chuck Norris of space hardware.

    1. EWI

      "Voyager 2 is the Chuck Norris of space hardware."

      Well, no - because it can actually do what it claims to do... (and hasn't yet beamed back its opinion that Obama is a illegal space alien)

  9. Anonymous John

    "turning on the last set, which control its roll, will allow engineers to turn off the heater that keeps the fuel line to the primary thruster warm, NASA said."

    I'm surprised there's enough sunlight at that distance to keep the fuel line warm.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    13 hours to get a message through.

    I'm sure there are some hell desks that it has taken longer to get through to.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      No sunlight there. And no solar panels on Voyager.

      It's the nuclear thermal generator that keeps the probe "warm".

      Aaaah, when NASA could builld hardware and software that actually works.... and thought about the future, not when Apollo was the past, not the future... now they only think how they could put together another Apollo just with some new LCD panels to make it look "futuristic" - just their scratching their heads to understand how those engineers in the sixties without iPhones and iPads have been able to put Apollo and Saturn together and make it work... probably because of the lack of them. Much more time available to understand how to make hardware work.

      1. Anonymous John

        That's what i thought, but the article says "will allow engineers to turn off the heater that keeps the fuel line to the primary thruster warm". And that this has been replaced by controlling its roll. How can rolling the ship keep it warm so far from the sun?

        1. annodomini2 Bronze badge

          Voyage has 2 sets of control thrusters, they are turning off the primary system to save power, but there will be no backup if the operating one fails.

          They roll the ship to perform experiments, then point the dish back towards earth to transmit the results.

          Also to compensate for changes in attitude due to external factors, e.g. being hit by micrometeors.

        2. Ragarath


          I assumed this meant that the fuel pipe that did not have any nice warm fuel flowing down it was being kept warm by the heater.

          As it is now in use the fuel should be enough to keep it warm.

          1. Your Retarded

            Why would the fuel in the tank be warm?

            It has been stored at a pretty low ambient temperature for over thirty years!

            1. annodomini2 Bronze badge

              Because the ambient temperature around the spacecraft is about -260 deg C and the fuel would freeze if it wasn't heated.

              1. Your Retarded

                Well done.

                Yes. But it obviously isn't 'warm' enough to keep the pipes from freezing which is why they need a heater on the pipes to start with!

    2. Hotears

      There isn't enough sunlight out there, our sun looks like a star. So it uses radiothermal generators. The fuel is plutonium, and as it decays, over the years, the power output drops. So now they have nowhere the power they started with.

      The biggest risk with RTGs seem to be people stealing the outer casings for scrap value, luckily the Voyagers have adequate theft protection.

  11. Nights_are_Long

    Just how power efficient is that thing? Seriously that's some epic achievement right there.

    I raise my hat to the Old NASA and Voyager.

  12. AndrueC Silver badge

    Are we there yet?


  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Godspeed Voyager 2

    A simple craft from simpler times, showing us the way.

  14. Dave 32
    Thumb Up


    There's not enough sunlight at that distance to keep anything warm. The Voyagers are powered with RTGs (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators). They produced about 470 Watts of power at launch, but, due to the decay of the radioisotopes (radioactive Plutonium), the power output has decreased over the years. The decreased power output from the RTGs is what is causing the need to conserve power.


  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    how long until aliens upgrade the probe to fulfil its mission, gather knowledge, achieve consciousness, return home to seek "the creator" - gawd was that a bad movie

  16. That Awful Puppy
    Thumb Up

    Say what you will

    But that is one seriously well-designed probe. Kudos to the Yanks, because back in the day, they really were fantastic.

    1. Rob

      Back then...

      ... in the 70's it would still have been the zee'Germans from operation paperclip surely ;)

  17. JaitcH
    Thumb Up

    Just as well they are not using Apple batteries ...

    or the mission would have failed before it passed Mars.

    Jimmy Carter was US president in the year of the launch in 1977, Pierre Elliot Trudeau was prime minister of Canada and James Callaghan, was UK prime minister. Clive Sinclair introduced his new two-inch screen television set, which retails at £175, and The Archers had been running 25 years.

    This probe demonstrates that America did have the technical skills at one time. What happened since then?

    1. Gannon (J.) Dick


      NASA could always say the heliosheath was holding it wrong.

    2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      Pom ti pom ti pom ti pom...

      The Archers is still going.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I'm really glad about this ...

    I hope it manages another ten years.

    And all this on a 25 watt transmitter. Its heroic.

  19. FredScummer

    Come What May

    I have to say that I am very impressed with these probes. Back in 1977 I had only just started my electronics career, and so much technology has come and gone in the intervening years.

  20. Herby Silver badge

    If you really want to be smart

    You could refer to the probe as "MJS-U 77", its design name. Voyager 1 was called "MJS-T 77".

    I remember when it got a little dicey soon (one year?) after launch when the receiver on board got its frequency control all out of whack. They needed a modification to the deep space network to recover (adjust the transmitter instead of the broken receiver).

    Remember, there is a "postcard" and a record attached to both Voyager probes. Chuck Berry lives in space (Johnny B. Goode).

  21. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    I think you will find....


    "...This probe demonstrates that America did have the technical skills at one time. What happened since then?..."

    ...that the technical skills in the US space missions came from captured and immigrant German technologists.

    What happened was that the Germans got older, retired and died. And no other Germans came over to take their place.

  22. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    14 billion kilometres

    That has to add up to some impressive frequent flyer points.

    Go Voyagers!

  23. LuMan

    But how far will it go....

    Perhaps, in many years, the following may happen....

    NASA bloke: "Hey, Jeff. Get that Voyager thing to check out that small moon over there."


    ... 2 days later ...

    NASA bloke: "Hey. We got a reply."

    Voyager output: THAT'S NO MOON!

  24. Chris 69
    Thumb Up

    Fuel Line!

    OK so I understand the atomic generator thingie but I would be fascinated to hear about the thruster fuel.. like how much did it take with it, how much is left and what's the MPG on that then!

    Fantastic achievement, i doubt the original designers ever got the rewards they deserved, other than an immense sense of pride of course.

    1. annodomini2 Bronze badge


      Basically as you are in space there is very little resistance so your fuel consumption is determined by the number of manoeuvres you need to make and how quickly you want those manoeuvres to occur.

      So if you can wait 2 weeks for the thing to turn around and only do it once every 3 months then very little.

  25. Lockwood

    We're receiving telemetry from Voyager 2!

    I'm not joking! It's a voice message, I'll clean it up a little... patching it through now...

    "John Madden John Madden John Madden John Madden John Madden"

    "aeiou aeiou aeiou aeiou aeiou aeiou aeiou aeiou"

    "Question mark exclamation point question mark exclamation point question mark exclamation point"

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "or the mission would have failed before it passed Mars."

    Fail as it never went past Mars - check your facts.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @JaitcH 'or the mission would have failed before it passed Mars.'

    Except it never even tried to get near to Mars - the trajectory was Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus then Neptune.

  28. joshimitsu

    with that kind of ping response

    No chance of hosting a Crysis tournament.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Voyager2 is on twitter: NASAVoyager2

    A million miles a day, to the Moon and back, twice. Awesome.

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