NASA Turns on Voyager 1 Thrusters after 37 Years


Now, the agency has ensured that it can maintain contact with the farthest spacecraft from Earth for at least two to three more years by waking up a set of backup thrusters it hasn't used since 1980.

The additional rocket jets were initially drafted to assist the Voyager 1 spacecraft target its apparatus to planets and moons on its expedition through the solar system. The aging spacecraft, first launched in 1977, is the fastest and most well-traveled spacecraft ever launched by NASA. The miniature rockets create around 0.2 pounds of thrust, brutally identical to the coercion from the load of a deck of playing cards.

Voyager's thrusters are powered by hydrazine, and there's enough on board to keep them operational until 2040, but we'll probably lose contact with the spacecraft long before then. It takes 19 hours, 35 minutes for information to reach Voyager 1 and another 19 hours, 35 minutes for it to report home, so NASA didn't get the results of the data immediately.

Since 2014, engineers have noticed that the thrusters Voyager 1 has been using to orient the spacecraft, called "attitude control thrusters", have been degrading. Voyager is now 13 billion miles from Earth, with transmissions taking 19 hours and 35 minutes each way.

Voyager 1 used its four back up thrusters to orientate itself so its antennas are facing towards Earth and it can receive more messages in the future.

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The reserve thrusters were fired back up on November 28, according to NASA.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test. 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 JPL propulsion engineer Todd Barber. To make the change, Voyager has to turn on one heater per thruster, which requires power - a limited resource for the aging mission. The thruster test worked so well that Nasa expects to try it on Voyager 2.

Meanwhile, because the test went so well, the team intends to conduct the same test on Voyager 2, which is expected to enter interstellar space sometime in the next few years. Voyager 2 also offered shots of Uranus and Neptune.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both.