Sci-tech

NASA Activates Voyager's Dormant Thrusters 37 Years Later

NASA Activates Voyager's Dormant Thrusters 37 Years Later

A set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft, the only human-made object in interstellar space, have been successfully fired up after 37 years without use, United States space agency NASA said.

They worked perfectly, allowing the spacecraft to reorient itself so it can continue to communicate with Earth.

After being unused for 37 years, United States space agency NASA successfully fired up a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft last week.

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Today's society might be caught up in next year's model when it comes to cars or gadgets, but science fans can stand to appreciate the engineering that went into the Voyager 1 spacecraft.

Nasa has picked up a transmission from a spacecraft that's 13 billion miles away from Earth.

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 thrusters had not been in use for 37 years, since Voyager 1 made its trip past Saturn.

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Because of the success in the attempt to test Voyager 1's TCM thrusters, NASA plans to test the ones on Voyager 2. With this example before them, NASA laid a more ambitious message aboard Voyager 1 and 2, a kind of time capsule, meant to relate a story of our world to aliens. As they get old, the thrusters need more puffs to generate a similar amount of energy than before.

Since 2014, engineers have noticed that the thrusters Voyager 1 has been using to orient the spacecraft, called "attitude control thrusters", have been degrading.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test", said Todd Barber, a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) propulsion engineer, in a JPL news release. The team was delighted when the results of their test were resoundingly positive. Now, NASA is planning to switch the TCM thrusters on again in January. To make the change, Voyager has to turn on one heater per thruster, which requires power - a limited resource for the aging mission.

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Voyager 1, launched in 1997 to investigate the solar system and beyond is traveling at a speed of 38,000 miles per hour (relative to the sun). JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.