Voyager 1 probe fires long-dormant thrusters in interstellar space

Voyager 1

The need to use them is not as immediate, however, because the primary thrusters of Voyager 2 have not significantly degraded.

The thrusts lasted a mere 10-milliseconds, but due to the colossal distance between the probe and its home planet the commands took 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach Voyager.

On top of the the backups sitting idle for so long, while being 13 billion miles from Earth, there was a third problem: the backups weren't used for "attitude control".

NASA will likely do a similar test of Voyager 2's TCM thrusters, which could be used if that spacecraft's attitude control thrusters further degrade in the future.

Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California said that with these thrusters that are still working after 37 years without use, we would be capable of extending the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years. It recently extended the Dawn spacecraft's mission over Ceres for a second time, while New Horizons is on its way to check out a small icy body called 2014 MU69 in January 2019.

JPL chief engineer Chris Jones added: "The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters". The team will use the thrusters until they can no longer use the heaters, and will then switch back to the attitude control thrusters that they've been relying on.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne developed all of the Voyager's thrusters.

So NASA's plan B was to fire up its four back-up thrusters, on the rear of Voyager 1, for the first time since 1980.

Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977. "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", said Todd Barber, a propulsion engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The Voyagers will continue on their journeys forever, but their ability to communicate back to Earth to tell the tales of their exploration is limited not only by the thrusters, but by the power sources that provide electricity and warmth to keep the instruments operating.

Although the response wasn't from another life form, it's impressive to know that it's possible to not only send a signal so far into space, but to also get a response - especially because the Voyager spacecraft are so important. California. 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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