NASA fires 'Voyager 1' after 37 years

03 December, 2017, 01:25 | Author: Becky Perry
  • NASA Fires up Voyager 1 Thrusters After 37 Years

It did. After almost four decades of dormancy, the Aerojet Rocketdyne manufactured thrusters fired perfectly. On Tuesday, they were needed again and worked just fine.

The US space firm NASA has said a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 probe, the unique human-made object in interstellar space, have been successfully fired up after 37 years without practice. (It's so lonely.) Now it's almost 21 billion kilometeres from Earth.

The condition of thrusters, called "attitude control thrusters", which were being used to orient the spacecraft, started detioriating after 2014 and a new way had to be discovered to keep its antenna pointing the right direction. Small thrusters on the spacecraft keep it the correct position ("attitude"). "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". JPL operates Voyager and the Deep Space Network (DSN) that receives the signals.

Because of Voyager 1's extreme distance from Earth, it takes over 19 hours for a message to fly one way to or from Voyager 1. These are located on the back of the spacecraft and are identical to the thrusters that they've used so far.

Experts at the agency's jet propulsion laboratory (JPL) in California made a decision to turn to four backup thrusters that were last used on 8 November 1980. They have been dormant since then.

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", Chris Jones, chief engineer at JPL, said in a statement.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

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The JPL's engineers began to look into alternatives, and found a new way to steer the spacecraft: the probe's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters. It was received on November 29 at the DSN's antenna in Goldstone, CA.

Suzanne Dodd, Voyager's project manager at JPL, said that the ability to use those thrusters will extend the spacecraft's life "by two to three years".

The thruster test went so well; the team will likely do a similar analysis on the TCM thrusters for Voyager 2, the counterpart spacecraft of Voyager 1.

In 2013, it crossed the rubicon in leaving our Solar System to continue its journey out into the stars.

In 1977, the twin spacecrafts Voyager 1 and 2 were launched, 16 days apart.

The spacecraft are powered by radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) that generate heat from the decay of plutonium-238. (They are not nuclear reactors.) The RTGs lose about 4 watts of power each year and the spacecraft are moving further away.

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