Nasa’s Voyager 1 Spacecraft Backup Thrusters Work After 37 Years
Chirag Thakkar | On 18, Dec 2017
Revolutionary spacecraft Voyager 1 is back on track to continue its exploratory mission 13 billion miles away from the Earth after a potential setback with its thrusters forced NASA to fire up backup thrusters that have been dormant for 37 years.
The unmanned twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft was launched into space on Monday, September 5, 1977. Their mission is to explore the outer planets of the solar system. Now 13 billion and 10 billion miles away from Earth respectively, they have gone further from the Earth and Sun than any man-made object in history.
The “attitude control thrusters” are responsible for turning the spacecraft by firing tiny puffs. These puffs turn the antenna toward Earth, in order to continue sending communications. NASA gets daily communication from the Voyager and these communications have changed the field of Astronomy drastically.
Since its launch, the Voyager has passed by and collected information from the four furthest planets, namely Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. The information gathered have answered many questions, proven and debunked many theories and have led to many astronomy related textbooks to be rewritten.
However, after 40 years of operation, the thrusters had degraded, jeopardizing the ability of the Voyager 1 to communicate with Earth. Analysis was done by experts at NASA’s Jet propulsion laboratory in California. It was decided that four back up thrusters that were last used on November 8, 1990 had to be turned back on.
The software for the Voyager was coded in an outdated assembler language which the Voyage flight team had to examine to ensure that the tests could be done safely. On Tuesday, November 28, 2017 the thrusters were fired up and the tests were done by using 10 millisecond pulses. The waiting time for the results was 19 hours and 35 minutes. In the end, the results that finally arrived at the antenna in Goldstone, California showed that the thrusters worked perfectly fine.
The Voyager 1 is expected to switch over to these thrusters in January and there are also plans to test the backup thrusters for the Voyager 2 soon. According to Voyager project manager, Suzanne Dodd, with this switch, the lifespan of the voyager will be extended by two or three years, and they are expected to produce data for another decade or so. Eventually, the plutonium-powered spaceships will run out of fuel and orbit in the center of the Milky Way.
It’s an understatement to say that the Voyager spacecraft is important to the field of Astronomy. We are all excited that it can continue out its mission for a while to come!