NASA fires Voyager 1's thrusters for first time in 37 years

NASA fired up Voyager 1 thrusters for the first time in 37 years. The spacecraft is currently traveling in interstellar space

The spacecraft needs to be properly oriented in order to continue communicating back to Earth.

"At 13 billion miles from Earth, there's no mechanic shop nearby to get a tune-up", NASA said in a news release. Her initial objects included flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn's moon Titan.

The backup rocket jets were originally created to help the Voyager 1 spacecraft aim its instruments at planets and moons on its journey through the solar system.

The full statement from NASA follows below.

If you had a vehicle sitting in a garage for almost forty years you'd forgive it for not starting with the first turn of the key.

And there's a lot we don't know about interstellar space - like, how does material from other stars interact with our solar system? Now, the Voyager team is able to use a set of four backup thrusters, dormant since 1980.

Over the past 30 years Voyager 1's primary thrusters - used to orient the spacecraft's communication dish toward Earth - have been seen to require increasing levels of power resources to function.

Until now special control thrusters were used to alter its direction, but the 1970s-made technology has been wearing out. Thrusters need more puffs over time to let out the same energy amount.

The Voyager team assembled a group of propulsion experts at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, for the job. Chris Jones, Robert Shotwell, Carl Guernsey and Todd Barber examined options and foretold how the spacecraft would respond in various scenarios.

In the early days of this mission, Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter, Saturn, and major moons of each.

So, to recap: these thrusters have sat in disuse since Jimmy Carter was president, they aren't designed for this sort of task, and they're a baker's dozen billion miles away.

Since Voyager 1's last planetary encounter was Saturn, the Voyager team hadn't needed to use the TCM thrusters since November 8, 1980. The spacecraft turned and the mood at NASA shifted to jubilation. They got their answer 19 hours and 35 minutes later, the time it took for the results to reach Earth: The set of four thrusters worked perfectly. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said today that engineers began noticing in 2014 that the attitude control thrusters were degrading.

Voyager 2 is also on course to enter interstellar space, likely within the next few years, and now, its attitude control thrusters are still functioning well.

It is expected that in the year 40,272, Voyager 1 will come within 1.7 light years of an obscure star in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Bear or Little Dipper) and in about 40,000 years, Voyager 2 will come within about 1.7 light years of a star called Ross 248, a small star in the constellation of Andromeda. JPL operates Voyager and the Deep Space Network (DSN) that receives the signals. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.

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