Published: Wed, December 06, 2017
Sci-tech | By Javier West

Voyager 1 investigation fires quiescent thrusters in interstellar space

Voyager 1 investigation fires quiescent thrusters in interstellar space

In its heydays, Voyager 1 has flown by planets, such as Saturn, Jupiter, and also some of their significant moons.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 is the only spacecraft traveling through interstellar space, the region beyond our solar system. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory compared the feat to successfully starting up a vehicle that had been sitting idle in the garage for 37 years.

Voyager 1 and 2 achieve 40 years of operation and exploration this August and September.

The thrusters that the Voyager 1 has been using are called "attitude control thrusters" and the engineers at the space agency spotted that they had been degrading since the year 2014.

Nasa has picked up a transmission from a spacecraft that's 13 billion miles away from Earth. The team was delighted when the results of their test were resoundingly positive.

Now travelling far outside our solar system, and with its primary thrusters on their last legs, NASA made a decision to conduct a test on its long-rested back-up system. Sure, each of the four the thrusters would need to be heated individually, which would consume even more energy than they normally would. Back then, the TCM thrusters were utilized in a more constant firing mode; they had never been used in the brief explosions necessary to orient the spacecraft.

All of Voyager's thrusters were developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

"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. One interesting aspect of this was that the team waiting to hear a response on the thrusters had to wait 19 hours and 35 minutes for it to reach a Deep Space Network antenna located in California.

On Wednesday, the engineers "learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly - and just as well as the attitude control thrusters", said NASA. The attitude control thrusters now used for Voyager 2 are not yet as diminished as Voyager 1's, however. But because Voyager 1's last planetary encounter was Saturn, the Voyager team hadn't needed to use the TCM thrusters since November 8, 1980.

The last time these engines were run in 1980.

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