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NASA fires up Voyager 1 backup thrusters after 37 years

04 December 2017

The last time the TCM thrusters were used was on November 8, 1980, during Voyager 1's encounter with Saturn, after which, they were not needed because there were no more planetary encounters.The experts searched up old date from years ago and studied the software coded in an assembler language, which was outdated, to ensure that the thrusters could be worked safely.

The condition of thrusters, called "attitude control thrusters", which were being used to orient the spacecraft, started detioriating after 2014 and a new way had to be discovered to keep its antenna pointing the right direction.

Of course, many parts of the Voyager craft still work despite their age - they've been sending reliable telemetry back since launch, including the memorable data in 2012 indicating that Voyager 1 had entered interstellar space. Voyager 1 is now more than 13 billion miles away from Earth, so the commands took a while to be relayed. 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.

And there's a lot we don't know about interstellar space - like, how does material from other stars interact with our solar system?

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They have made discoveries such as active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon and the intricacies of Saturn's rings.

Nasa has fired the backup thrusters of Voyager 1, it's fastest and farthest space probe travelling through interstellar space, and effectively "extended its life". To accurately fly by and point the spacecraft's instruments at a smorgasbord of targets, engineers used "trajectory correction maneuver", or TCM, thrusters that are identical in size and functionality to the attitude control thrusters, and are located on the back side of the spacecraft.

NASA fired the thrusters for the Voyager, 37 years after they had last been used, according to a new report from the agency.

Aerojet Rocketdyne developed all of the Voyager's thrusters.

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After reviewing decades-old data and software "that was coded in an outdated assembler language", JPL engineers, led by JPL Chief Engineer Chris Jones, determined it was safe to attempt to fire them.

"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.

The NASA team is likely do a similar test on the TCM thrusters for Voyager 2, the twin spacecraft of Voyager 1.

The plan going forward is to switch to the TCM thrusters in January.

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To reawaken these dormant thrusters the team had to go back to the original Voyager documentation. The attitude control thrusters now used for Voyager 2 are not yet as diminished as Voyager 1's, however. Although the devices are still working, a few years ago engineers began to notice they were deteriorating.

NASA fires up Voyager 1 backup thrusters after 37 years