After being unused for 37 years, US space agency NASA successfully fired up a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft last week. The Voyager 1 is the furthest man-made object from Earth at this time. The spacecraft has been using small devices called attitude control thrusters to orient itself so it can communicate with Earth, but apparently the thrusters have been degrading since 2014. Also Read - NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter uses same chip as Samsung Galaxy S5, OnePlus OneAlso Read - NASA Perseverance Mars rover uses 1998 iMac processor with just one upgrade
With these thrusters that are still functional after 37 years without use, we will be able to extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years, said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Also Read - NASA astronauts complete seven hour spacewalk to prep ISS for new solar panels
For this development, the Voyager team got together a group of propulsion experts in order to study the problem. After days of discussion they arrived on the decision to try giving the job of orientation to a set of four backup thrusters dormant since 1980. Consequently, a week ago, Voyager engineers sent a command to fire the four trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters and it took 19 hours and 35 minutes for the test results to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California.
Next day, the engineers learned that the TCM thrusters worked perfectly and just as well as the attitude control thrusters, said NASA. The plan going forward is to switch to the TCM thrusters in January, it said.
NASA added it will likely do a similar test on the TCM thrusters for Voyager 2, the twin spacecraft of Voyager 1. Voyager 2 is also on course to enter interstellar space, likely within the next few years, and currently, its attitude control thrusters are still functioning well. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched 16 days apart in 1977. Voyager 1 reached interstellar space, which NASA described as the environment between the stars, in 2012.