NASA Turns on Voyager 1 Thrusters after 37 Years

NASA Turns on Voyager 1 Thrusters after 37 Years

NASA Turns on Voyager 1 Thrusters after 37 Years

The TCMs haven't been in use since 1980, however, when it was needed to stabilize the Voyager 1 during its fly bys of Jupiter, Saturn, and their moons.

Recall that in September 2013, NASA announced that "Voyager 1" became the first artificial device, which left the Solar system and out into interstellar space. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory compared the feat to successfully starting up a vehicle that had been sitting idle in the garage for 37 years. These "attitude control thrusters", as they are called, have been degrading for three years now, expending a greater amount of energy and shortening Voyager 1's mission lifespan. Keeping a communication link open to a space probe that's now over 13 billion miles away from Earth isn't easy, and it requires precise adjustments to the spacecraft's orientation.

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", said Jones, chief engineer at JPL. Unfortunately, since 2014, NASA has noticed that the primary thrusters on Voyager were burning more and more hydrazine to perform the same course corrections. They also hadn't been switched on since the craft's encounter with Saturn in 1980 and had never been used for the objective of orienting the craft for communication.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, Voyager engineers fired up the four TCM thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses.

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

The following day, they learned the thrusters worked perfectly.

The thruster test went so well, the team will likely do a similar test on the TCM thrusters for Voyager 2, the twin spacecraft of Voyager 1. At 13 billion miles from earth, the response from Voyager 1 takes 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach the Voyager team, even when the signal travels at the speed of light. Voyager 1 is farther from Earth than Voyager 2, due to differences in their missions and trajectories, at an estimated 141 AU from Earth (1 AU is the distance between Earth and the sun).

The last time these engines were run in 1980.

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