NASA fires up Voyager 1 backup thrusters after 37 years

After 37 years, Voyager 1 has fired up its trajectory thrusters

Voyager 1 Fires Dormant Thrusters for the First Time in 37 Years

The unmanned spaceship was launched along with its twin, Voyager 2, more than 40 years ago to explore the outer planets of our solar system, traveling further than any human-made object in history. (It's so lonely.) Now it's almost 21 billion kilometeres from Earth. Voyager 1 reached interstellar space, which NASA described as "the environment between the stars", in 2012. Over the next few years it completed fly-bys of Jupiter, Saturn, and Titan-Saturn's largest moon. It studied the weather, magnetic fields and rings of the two planets and was the first probe to provide detailed images of their moons. In a blog post, the agency explained that Voyager 1's main attitude control thrusters had been degrading, making it hard to reorient the spacecraft so that its antenna points back towards Earth.

The MR-103 thrusters, provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne, are created to fire in pulses to rotate the spacecraft and keep its 12-foot (3.7-metre) antenna pointed at Earth, but engineers have noticed more firings were needed recently, indicating the jets were losing some of their performance. The spacecraft is now traveling in interstellar space. Voyager 1 was sent on an escape velocity to leave our solar system on November 20, 1980, and she hasn't looked back since.

NASA/ Photo ID: ACD97-0036-1.

Now, the research team for Voyager at NASA was able to fire up a batch of four backup thrusters that have not been used since 1980.

Chris Jones, Robert Shotwell, Carl Guernsey and Todd Barber analysed options and predicted how the spacecraft would respond in different scenarios, NASA said.

Since 2014, engineers have remarked that the thrusters Voyager 1 has been using to orient the satellite, named "attitude control thrusters", have been degrading.

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

Experts at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California chose to turn to four backup thrusters that were last used on November 8, 1980.

First launched all the way back on September 5th, 1977 the Voyager 1 space probe remains one of the United States' space exploration history's crowning achievements. Cloud details as small as 100 miles (160 kilometers) across can be seen here.

On Wednesday, the engineers "learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly - and just as well as the attitude control thrusters", said NASA.

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.

NASA plans to switch over to the formerly dormant thrusters in January.

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.

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