Voyager 1 Gets Help from Thrusters Dormant for 37 Years

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

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

So NASA searched for a Plan B, eventually deciding to try using four "trajectory correction maneuver" (TCM) thrusters, located on the back side of Voyager 1.

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", the chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Chris Jones, said.

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

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Washington, Dec 2:At 13 billion miles from Earth, there's no mechanic shop nearby to get a tune-up. The team waited eagerly as the test results traveled through space, taking 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California, that is part of NASA's Deep Space Network.

This additional life is important for mission controllers working with Voyager because the more data they can pull from this spacecraft, the better. Now, the agency has ensured that it can maintain contact with the farthest spacecraft from Earth for at least two to three more years by waking up a set of backup thrusters it hasn't used since 1980. It did. After almost four decades of dormancy, the Aerojet Rocketdyne manufactured thrusters fired perfectly.

The Voyager team made a decision to try using the TCM thrusters, which were created to accurately point the spacecraft as it passed Jupiter and Saturn and their moons. 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. According to NASA, the re-awakened thrusters were just as effective as the attitude control thrusters. "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", Jones' colleague, Todd Barber, added.

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Voyager 1 has a twin, Voyager 2, that flew past not only Jupiter and Saturn, but Uranus and Neptune, and is now headed out of the solar system on a different path. JPL says Voyager 2's attitude control thrusters are still fine, but they will likely do a test of its TCM thrusters to determine their status.

Around 2025, Voyager's radioactive power source will expire and all contact will be lost.

It was around 2014 that engineers noticed the primary thrusters were showing signs of decay, and would probably be on their way out before too long. The attitude control thrusters now used for Voyager 2 are not yet as diminished as Voyager 1's, however.

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The spacecraft - now over 141 times the distance between the earth and the sun - is expected to go dark some time in the next five years as the remaining energy is depleted.

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