Science

NASA wakes up Voyager's slumbering thrusters 37 years later

NASA wakes up Voyager's slumbering thrusters 37 years later

The only human-created object present in interstellar space, NASA's spacecraft Voyager 1, has been fired up for the first time in the last 37 years.

Voyager 2 is also on course to enter interstellar space, likely within the next few years, and now, its attitude control thrusters are still functioning well.

This is why, when you're sending something into space where you can never retrieve it for repairs, it's a good idea to include failsafes - in this case, Voyager 1 has additional thrusters that were used for trajectory correction manoeuvres (TCM).

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", said Jones, chief engineer at JPL.

The additional rocket jets were initially drafted to assist the Voyager 1 spacecraft target its apparatus to planets and moons on its expedition through the solar system. And it took 19 hours and 35 minutes for them to hear back from the spacecraft.




The active thrusters on the Voyager spacecraft are said to fire in small pulses that last "mere milliseconds" to ever so slightly rotate the spacecraft so the antenna points back toward Earth. Launched in August and September of 1977, both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 continue to communicate with Earth via the Deep Space Network.

Now travelling far outside our solar system, and with its primary thrusters on their last legs, NASA made a decision to conduct a test on its long-rested back-up system.

The next day, on November 29, the engineers got to know that the TCM thrusters have performed perfectly.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test", Todd Barber, NASA propulsion engineer, said in the release. To make the change, Voyager has to turn on one heater per thruster, which requires power - a limited resource for the aging mission. The attitude control thrusters now used for Voyager 2 are not yet as degraded as Voyager 1's, however. The team was delighted when the results of their test were resoundingly positive. Voyager 2 also offered shots of Uranus and Neptune. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.


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