Voyager 1 Fires its Thrusters after 37 Years

December 2, 2017
2 minutes read
Voyager 1 Fires its Thrusters after 37 Years

Scientists and engineers working in the Voyager mission did something they didn’t do since 1980. They finally fired the spacecraft’s trajectory thrusters again.

The last time Voyager 1 used its four “trajectory correction maneuver” (TCM) thrusters, was back in 1980. A time when the spacecraft did its last Saturn flyby.

Voyager 1 is currently 21 billion kilometers away from Earth, floating into the interstellar space.

However, despite the distance, scientists at NASA can still communicate with the craft.

Firing up the Thrusters

However, to see whether the TCM thrusters were still working, on Tuesday (Nov. 28) mission team members fired them up again.

It took 19 hours and 35 minutes for the signal to reach Voyager 1. Then, the team members had to wait another 19 hours and 35 minutes to see if the spacecraft responded. And guess what? It did. The Aerojet Rocketdyne manufactured thrusters fired perfectly.

“The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test,” Todd Barber, a propulsion engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. “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.”

The Voyager 1 spacecraft has been using its standard attitude-control thrusters to orient itself into the proper position to communicate with Earth. But over time, the performance of these thrusters has been weakening, so the mission team members had to do something.

“The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters,” Chris Jones, chief engineer at JPL, said in a statement.

However, after this successful test, engineers say they will be able to extend the lifetime of Voyager by two or three more years before its power reserves expire.

“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,” Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd, also of JPL, said in the statement.

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Thumbnail Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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