NASA fires 'Voyager 1' after 37 years

NASA fires 'Voyager 1' after 37 years

NASA fires 'Voyager 1' after 37 years

So NASA's plan B was to fire up its four back-up thrusters, on the rear of Voyager 1, for the first time since 1980.

However, over the past three years, scientists at Nasa noticed that the main "attitude control thrusters" of the spacecraft, which reorient its antennas towards our planet and help with communication, had been wearing out with time.

The spacecraft needs to be properly oriented in order to continue communicating back to Earth.

At present, the Voyager 1 spacecraft is 21 billion kilometers from Earth, or about 141 times the distance between the Earth and Sun.

After sending the commands on Tuesday, it took 19 hours and 35 minutes for the signal to reach Voyager. Voyager 1 reached interstellar space, which NASA described as "the environment between the stars", in 2012. NASA says they hope to extend Voyager 1's life by at least two or three more years.

The Voyager missions discovered the first active volcanoes beyond Earth, at Jupiter's moon Io, and hints of a subsurface ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa.

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"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", said Chris Jones, chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. These backup thrusters will give Voyager an extra year or two of life, before it loses connection with its home planet and disappears into the abyss of space.

U.S. space agency NASA has successfully fired up a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft after 37 years of being unused. Back then, the TCM thrusters were utilized in a more constant firing mode; they had never been used in the brief explosions necessary to orient the spacecraft. It did. After almost four decades of dormancy, the Aerojet Rocketdyne manufactured thrusters fired perfectly. The mission celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, but it's not just a lump of metal floating through interstellar space: that baby still runs. "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", said Barber, a JPL propulsion engineer.

The team will switch over to the TCM thrusters in January, but there is a drawback: they require heaters to operate, which will draw on the probe's limited power.

The research team may also carry out the same kind of test for Voyager 2's TCM thrusters, following the success of Voyager 1's test. Voyager 2's attitude control thrusters, however, are not as reduced in quality as those of Voyager 1. Voyager 1 was already operating on its backup branch of attitude control thrusters.

Illustration of the paths of Voyager 1 and 2.

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