Voyager 1's thrusters still after 37 years of sleep

06 December, 2017, 00:15 | Author: Lorena Waters
  • Science																						
			The thrusters on NASA’s Voyager 1 just woke up after a 37-year nap in space					

Now 21 billion kilometres from earth and the only human-made object in interstellar space, Voyager 1 last made use of these thrusters in 1980 when it passed by Saturn. These "attitude control thrusters", as they are called, have been degrading for three years now, expending a greater amount of energy and shortening Voyager 1's mission lifespan.

Fortunately, Voyager 1 seems to refuse to give up the ghost and its backup thrusters have been successfully fired up, even after being left unused for 37 years.

Last week, ground controllers sent commands to fire backup thrusters on Voyager 1, our most distant spacecraft.

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

The TCMs haven't been in use since 1980, however, when it was needed to stabilize the Voyager 1 during its fly bys of Jupiter, Saturn, and their moons. TCM thrusters are similar in functionality and size as the "attitude control thrusters" and they are spaced at the back of Voyager 1.

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Still, the team though the TCM thrusters might suit their purposes, so on November 28, they chose to fire them up with 10-millisecond pulses to test if they could be a viable replacement for the almost spent thrusters. 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. We now know, however, that the adjustment worked perfectly, and it should allow Voyager 1 to keep communicating with Earth for a few more years.

On Tuesday November 28th, Voyager engineers fired up the four thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test".

The plan going forward is to switch to the TCM thrusters in January. It adds that it might not have to do that soon, as the trusters in use on the Voyager 2 are not as "degraded" as Voyager 1's. To make the change, Voyager has to turn on one heater per thruster, which requires power - a limited resource for the aging mission. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.



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