NASA Fires Up Voyager 1's Thrusters After 37 Years

This rendering provided by NASA shows Voyager 1. NASA has nailed a thruster test on Voyager 1 a spacecraft 13 billion miles away. Last week ground controllers sent commands to fire backup thrusters on Voyager 1 humanity’s most distant spacecraft. The

The thrusters that the Voyager 1 has been using are called "attitude control thrusters" and the engineers at the space agency spotted that they had been degrading since the year 2014.

After being unused for 37 years, U.S. space agency NASA successfully fired up a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft last week.

The active thrusters on the Voyager spacecraft are said to fire in small pulses that last "mere milliseconds" to ever so slightly rotate the spacecraft so the antenna points back toward Earth.

NASA has nailed an engine test on a spacecraft 13 billion miles away.

NASA/JPL-CaltechThe Voyager team is able to use a set of four backup thrusters, dormant since 1980.

In its heydays, Voyager 1 has flown by planets, such as Saturn, Jupiter, and also some of their significant moons.


NASA reports that it feels the test went so well that it will most likely do the same for the Voyager 2 spacecraft. The operations will continue over the next month, and the whole process could extend the spacecraft's life by two to three years.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test", said Todd Barber, a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) propulsion engineer, in a JPL news release.

Ground controllers were seeking some solution and they made up their mind to evaluate a discrete rocket pack with four indistinguishable MR-103 "trajectory correction maneuver", or TCM, thrusters on the hind sight of the spacecraft that were utilized to coax Voyager 1 and sustain it on course during flybys prematurely in the commission.

"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". Now, NASA is planning to switch the TCM thrusters on again in January. The attitude control thrusters now used for Voyager 2 are not yet as diminished as Voyager 1's, however. To make the change, Voyager has to turn on one heater per thruster, which requires power - a limited resource for the aging mission.

Voyager 1 is in interstellar space and Voyager 2 is now in the "Heliosheath" - the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas.

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