NASA Fires up Voyager 1 Thrusters After 37 Years

It will be functional for next 2 to 3 years.

NASA Fires up Voyager 1 Thrusters After 37 Years
The twin Voyager spacecraft are celebrating 40 years of continual operation in August and September 2017. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Voyager 1, NASA‘s most remote and quickest spacecraft is the only man-made protest in interstellar space. The spacecraft, which has flown for a long time, depends on little gadgets called thrusters to situate itself so it can speak with Earth.

These thrusters fire in minor pulses, or “puffs,” enduring unimportant milliseconds, to inconspicuously pivot the spacecraft with the goal that its reception apparatus focus at our planet. Since 1980, the spacecraft’s thrusters were not functional for the orientation.

But now, scientists are able to use a set of four backup thrusters to fire up Voyager 1 after 37 years. Presently, the Voyager group can utilize an arrangement of four reinforcement thrusters, torpid since 1980.

Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California said, “With these thrusters that are still functional after 37 years without use, we will be able to extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years.”

In 2014, scientists noticed that the Voyager 1 use ‘attitude control thrusters’ to orient the spacecraft. But over the time, they realized that the thruster needs more puffs to give off the same amount of energy.

Thus, scientists decided to simulate with a group of propulsion experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California for further analyzation. They observed the options and predicted how the spacecraft would respond in different scenarios. They agreed on an unusual solution: Try giving the job of orientation to a set of thrusters that had been asleep for 37 years.

For that purpose, they started analyzing decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters.

Voyager 1 in the early days of its mission flew by Jupiter, Saturn, and important moons of each. 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. Later on, the TCM thrusters were utilized as a part of a more consistent terminating mode; they had never been utilized as a part of the concise blasts important to situate the shuttle.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, scientists successfully fired up the four TCM thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses.

Barber, a JPL propulsion engineer said, “The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test. The mood was one of relief, joy, and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all.”