emfizz.com December 17, 2017

Voyager 1 fires its thrusters for first time since 1980

03 December 2017, 12:22 | Bernard Bryant

Voyager 1 Fires Dormant Thrusters for the First Time in 37 Years

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

But those thrusters had not been used in 37 years. At 13 billion miles from Earth, there's no mechanic shop nearby to get a tune-up.

Nasa's Voyager 1 spacecraft - cruising interstellar space billions of kilometres from Earth - was back on the right track thanks to thrusters that were fired up for the first time in 37 years.

NASA launched Voyager 1 way back in 1977. The last time they were needed was when Voyager 1 passed Saturn on November 8, 1980.

Over the past 30 years Voyager 1's primary thrusters - used to orient the spacecraft's communication dish toward Earth - have been seen to require increasing levels of power resources to function.

But after decades of operation, the "attitude control thrusters" that turn the spacecraft by firing tiny "puffs" had degraded.

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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.

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", Chris Jones, chief engineer at JPL, said in a statement. It did. After almost four decades of dormancy, the Aerojet Rocketdyne manufactured thrusters fired perfectly.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test", JPL propulsion engineer Todd Barber added in the blog post. Ground control was able to reconfigure them to fire in a milliseconds-long pulse mode; the Verge noted the ability to use the TCM thrusters as a replacement for the main set "should extend [Voyager 1's] life by a couple of years". The same kind of thruster, called the MR-103, flew on other NASA spacecraft as well, such as Cassini and Dawn. According to NASA, the re-awakened thrusters were just as effective as the attitude control thrusters. 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.

Because of the success in the attempt to test Voyager 1's TCM thrusters, NASA plans to test the ones on Voyager 2. JPL operates Voyager and the Deep Space Network (DSN) that receives the signals. The attitude control thrusters now used for Voyager 2 are not yet as degraded as Voyager 1's, however. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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