Voyager 1's Thrusters Fired After Decades Spent Dormant

Voyager 1's Thrusters Fired After Decades Spent Dormant

Voyager 1's Thrusters Fired After Decades Spent Dormant

But because Voyager 1's last planetary encounter was Saturn, the Voyager team hadn't needed to use the TCM thrusters since November 8, 1980. NASA scientists have been relying on small thrusters, called "attitude control thrusters", on the spacecraft to turn the probe so it can communicate with Earth.

The thrusters are used to orient itself so it is capable of continuing to send back communications to Earth.

Voyager 1's sibling craft, Voyager 2, is 10.8 billion miles (over 17 million kilometers) from Earth and will likely undergo a similar procedure, though per NASA, its main thruster set is in better condition.

Voyager 1 was launched by NASA on September 5, 1977, as part of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System.

And there's a lot we don't know about interstellar space - like, how does material from other stars interact with our solar system? According to Suzanne Dodd, NASA's program manager for Voyager, the fact that the thrusters still worked after more than three decades will allow the probe's mission to be extended out years longer than previously anticipated. In its 40 year journey into interstellar space, Voyager 1 completed the objectives of its mission, including flybys of Jupiter, Saturn and Saturn's large moon, Titan.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test", JPL propulsion engineer Todd Barber added in the blog post. The need to use them is not as immediate, however, because the primary thrusters of Voyager 2 have not significantly degraded.

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NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft - cruising interstellar space billions of miles from Earth - was back on the right track Friday thanks to thrusters that were fired up for the first time in 37 years.

All of Voyager's thrusters were developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", said Chris Jones of JPL.

Humanity's most distant spacecraft surprised its operators by answering the call to fire up rockets that have not been used in nearly 40 years. The mood was one of relaxation, joy and wonder after observing these well-rested thrusters pull up the baton as if no time had moved at all. However, the thrusters were in a continuous firing mode at the time.

On Tuesday, JPL engineers commanded the thrusters to fire and waited for Voyager's response. They will do so by switching over to backup TCM thrusters in early January of next year.

Because of the success in the attempt to test Voyager 1's TCM thrusters, NASA plans to test the ones on Voyager 2. When there is no longer enough power to operate the heaters, the team will switch back to the attitude control thrusters.

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