NASA's Voyager 1 Spacecraft Thrusters Work After Decades Of Being Dormant

04 December, 2017, 01:26 | Author: Angelina Schmidt

"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 JPL. On November 22, 2017, the probe was approximately 13 billion miles (21 billion kilometers), from the Sun.

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.

Voyager 1 left our solar system in August 2012 and entered interstellar space and is sending data back through NASA's Deep Space Network.

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An artist concept depicting one of NASA's twin Voyager spacecraft. In a blog post, the agency explained that Voyager 1's main attitude control thrusters had been degrading, making it hard to reorient the spacecraft so that its antenna points back towards Earth. It's now more than 11.7 billion miles away, past the heliopause to the point that it can observe the solar system from the outside.

The JPL's engineers began to look into alternatives, and found a new way to steer the spacecraft: the probe's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters. However, almost 20 hours after firing up the backup thrusters, engineers received a signal from the Voyager back on Earth, which meant their test was successful.

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. However, we can still communicate with Voyager across that distance. These are located on the back of the spacecraft and are identical to the thrusters that they've used so far.

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For making a communication with Earth, the spacecraft relies on small devices called thrusters and these thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or "puffs", lasting mere milliseconds, to subtly rotate the spacecraft so that its antenna points at our planet. And yet, when scientists at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory made a decision to try firing up its old thrusters, they still worked. When there is no longer enough power to operate the heaters, the team will switch back to the attitude control thrusters.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test". This finding prompted NASA engineers at the JPL in Pasadena, California to examine the issue.

NASA's Voyager 1 has been drifting farther and farther away from our planet for the past 40 years. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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