NASA efficiently fires Voyager 1 thrusters after 37 years

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

If you had a vehicle sitting in a garage for almost forty years you'd forgive it for not starting with the first turn of the key.

NASA fired up Voyager 1 thrusters for the first time in 37 years.

And there's a lot we don't know about interstellar space - like, how does material from other stars interact with our solar system? But those thrusters had not been used in 37 years.

Nasa has fired the backup thrusters of Voyager 1, it's fastest and farthest space probe travelling through interstellar space, and effectively "extended its life".

The engineers began exploring the possibility of using the secondary engines, called trajectory control maneuver thrusters, which are located at the back on the probe. Over time, the thrusters need more puffs to give off the equivalent quantity of power. On November 22, 2017, the probe was approximately 13 billion miles (21 billion kilometers), from the Sun. Chris Jones, Robert Shotwell, Carl Guernsey and Todd Barber analyzed options and predicted how the spacecraft would respond in different scenarios.

The Voyager team assembled a group of propulsion experts to study the problem and eventually agreed on an unusual solution that will try giving the job of orientation to a set of four backup thrusters dormant since 1980.




"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", said Jones, chief engineer at JPL.

So, to recap: these thrusters have sat in disuse since Jimmy Carter was president, they aren't designed for this sort of task, and they're a baker's dozen billion miles away.

According to a statement, the Voyager team made a decision to go for a bit of a wildcard, agreeing on an "unusual solution" that involved firing up a set of four backup thrusters, which hadn't been used since 1980. Back then, the TCM thrusters were used in a more continuous firing mode; they had never been used in the brief bursts necessary to orient the spacecraft.

Aerojet Rocketdyne developed all of the Voyager's thrusters. After adjusting the probe's position, it took roughly 20 hours for NASA to receive a return signal.

Most recently, the spacecraft was signalled to testfire a set of four small rocket thrusters that have not been operational for 37 years, to see whether the device could be remotely oriented more efficiently. However, almost 20 hours after firing up the backup thrusters, engineers received a signal from the Voyager back on Earth, which meant their test was successful.

On Wednesday, the scientists discovered that the TCM thrusters operated flawlessly and just as well as the attitude control thrusters.

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