Voyager 1 Fires Up its Old Thrusters After 37 Years

NASA successfully fires Voyager 1 thrusters after 37 years

On Tuesday, JPL engineers commanded the thrusters to fire and waited for Voyager's response. Voyager 1 is now more than 13 billion miles away from Earth, so the commands took a while to be relayed.

USA space agency NASA has successfully fired up a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft after 37 years of being unused.

This week, the scientists and engineers on the Voyager team did something very special.

The handlers of Voyager - the farthest and fastest human-made object in the universe - fired up that set of thrusters, which had lain dormant since 1980, in order to orient the probe and thereby maintain its communications link with Earth. To indeed fly by and point the spacecraft's instruments at a buffet of targets, engineers used "trajectory correction maneuver", thrusters that are indistinguishable in size and functionality to the attitude control thrusters, and are found on the back side of the probe.

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.

Experts at the agency's jet propulsion laboratory (JPL) in California chose to turn to four backup thrusters that were last used on 8 November 1980. The need to use them is not as immediate, however, because the primary thrusters of Voyager 2 have not significantly degraded.

All of Voyager's thrusters were developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne.


"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", said Jones, chief engineer at JPL. The mood was one of relaxation, joy and wonder after observing these well-rested thrusters pull up the baton as if no time had moved at all.

The plan going forward is to switch to the TCM thrusters in January, it said.

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.

Voyager 2 is also on course to enter interstellar space, likely within the next few years.

The probe began its epic journey on September 5, 1977, sending us back a wealth of information, including some stunning photos of Saturn and Jupiter and their many moons. JPL operates Voyager and the Deep Space Network (DSN) that receives the signals.

Although the Voyager 1's twin spacecraft-Voyager 2-launched just 16 days after Voyager 1, its standard thrusters appear to be in much better shape, NASA officials wrote. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.

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