Voyager 1 fires thrusters last used in 1980 - and they worked!

NASA suggests that Voyager 1 should keep on running for another 2-3 years before it runs out of fuel in the interstellar space

While some spacecraft get the chance to go out in a blaze of glory, others are in it for the long haul - Voyager 1 more so than any other.

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. Those served to make minute adjustments to the craft's orientation to keep its antenna pointed back at Earth and maintain communications with us as it flies through space. We've learned about Jupiter's moons, Saturn's rings, Neptune's winds - all thanks to Voyager 1. The probe now uses its attitude control thrusters to make tiny corrections - firing for only milliseconds at a time - to rotate it to point its antenna towards Earth.

NASA will switch over to using the backup TCM thrusters in January and hopes they'll help extend the functional life of the spacecraft by two or three years.

Voyager 1 is the only human-made object flying outside of our solar system, and it's still communicating with Earth by way of the Deep Space Network, which allows engineers to send it instructions.

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.

So last Tuesday, November 28th, the Voyager team told the far-off probe to fire the TCM thrusters. These are located on the back of the spacecraft and are identical to the thrusters that they've used so far.

Man, they just don't build 'em like they used to.

The set of four small thrusters came online Wednesday after NASA engineers noticed the spacecraft's attitude control thrusters had been degrading for several years.

All of Voyager's thrusters were developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne. The radio waves traveled for 19 hours and 35 minutes before reaching Voyager 1 13 billion miles away; 19 hours and 35 minutes after that, they got the results of their little experiment. "The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all", said Todd Barber, a NASA propulsion engineer. To make the change, Voyager has to turn on one heater per thruster, which requires power - a limited resource for the aging mission.

Voyager 1 will switch back to its other thrusters once the probe no longer has enough power for the heaters, officials said.

Voyager 2 is also on course to enter interstellar space, likely within the next few years.



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