Voyager 1 Thrusters Fires Up First Time Since 1980

04 December, 2017, 01:26 | Author: Julian Swanson
  • Artist's impression of Oumuamua the first confirmed interstellar asteroid

To indeed fly by and point the spacecraft's instruments at a buffet of targets, engineers used "trajectory correction maneuver", thrusters that are indistinguishable in size and functionality to the attitude control thrusters, and are found on the back side of the probe. Since both Voyager 1 and 2 are supposed to last billions of years, the mementos of Earth that they carry could eventually be the only surviving trace of human life. They got their answer 19 hours and 35 minutes later, the time it took for the results to reach Earth: The set of four thrusters worked perfectly.

Voyager 1, the probe which became the first man-made object to leave the solar system in 2012, has been away from home for a long, long time - approximately 40 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? Voyager Project Manager Suzanne Dodd said the new workaround would extend the life of the Voyager 1 project by two or three years.

The Voyager missions discovered the first active volcanoes beyond Earth, at Jupiter's moon Io, and hints of a subsurface ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test", said Barber, a JPL propulsion engineer.

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

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) chief engineer Chris Jones said.

The Voyager team made a decision to try using the TCM thrusters, which were created to accurately point the spacecraft as it passed Jupiter and Saturn and their moons.

Now, the research team for Voyager at NASA was able to fire up a batch of four backup thrusters that have not been used since 1980. 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.

The plan going forward is to switch to the TCM thrusters in January. Voyager 1 was already operating on its backup branch of attitude control thrusters.

The research team may also carry out the same kind of test for Voyager 2's TCM thrusters, following the success of Voyager 1's test. Voyager 2's attitude control thrusters, however, are not as reduced in quality as those of Voyager 1. The attitude control thrusters now used for Voyager 2 are not yet as diminished as Voyager 1's, however. It's expected to enter deep space within the next few years.

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