NASA fires up Voyager 1 thrusters after 37 years

04 December, 2017, 01:27 | Author: Rita Burton
  • After 37 years, Voyager 1 has fired up its trajectory thrusters

They are identical to the attitude control thrusters and located on the back of the spacecraft. It is some 21 billion kilometres away from Earth and is still travelling through deep space while sending telemetry data back to the space agency. Since both Voyager 1 and 2 are supposed to last billions of years, the mementos of Earth that they carry could eventually be the only surviving trace of human life. However, almost 20 hours after firing up the backup thrusters, engineers received a signal from the Voyager back on Earth, which meant their test was successful.

Voyager 1 is the only man-made object that has crossed the border of our solar system into interstellar space.

And there's a lot we don't know about interstellar space - like, how does material from other stars interact with our solar system?

Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California said that with these thrusters that are still working after 37 years without use, we would be capable of extending the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years. 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. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said today that engineers began noticing in 2014 that the attitude control thrusters were degrading.

Voyager 1, which was launched in 1977, depends on thrusters, which are small devices that orient the spacecraft to communicate with Earth.

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However, Voyager 1 does have a set of four backup trajectory correction maneuver thrusters that haven't been used since the 1980s.

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.

Aerojet Rocketdyne developed all of the Voyager's thrusters. The need to use them is not as immediate, however, because the primary thrusters of Voyager 2 have not significantly degraded. "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 Todd Barber, a NASA propulsion engineer.

After reviewing decades-old data and software "that was coded in an outdated assembler language", JPL engineers, led by JPL Chief Engineer Chris Jones, determined it was safe to attempt to fire them.

Because of the success in the attempt to test Voyager 1's TCM thrusters, NASA plans to test the ones on Voyager 2. Voyager 1 was already operating on its backup branch of attitude control thrusters.

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