Science

NASA Voyager thrusts for first time

NASA Voyager thrusts for first time

Voyager 1's central thrusters have been demeaning in the last few years.

IF you tried to start a vehicle after 40 years of it sitting in your garage, you might expect to run into a bit of trouble.

Voyager 1 doesn't actually need thrusters to continue drifting through space. Unfortunately, since 2014, NASA has noticed that the primary thrusters on Voyager were burning more and more hydrazine to perform the same course corrections.

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", the chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Chris Jones, said.

When there is no longer enough power to operate the heaters, the team will switch back to the attitude control thrusters.

Nasa has picked up a transmission from a spacecraft that's 13 billion miles away from Earth. After days of discussion they arrived on the decision to try giving the job of orientation to a set of four backup thrusters dormant since 1980.

Voyager 1 sped past Jupiter and Saturn on its way out of the solar system. Back then, the TCM thrusters were utilized in a more constant firing mode; they had never been used in the brief explosions necessary to orient the spacecraft. They also hadn't been switched on since the craft's encounter with Saturn in 1980 and had never been used for the objective of orienting the craft for communication.

When those small thrusters began to deteriorate, the engineers hit on an idea: use the large thrusters in tiny bursts to spin the craft. The same kind of thruster, called the MR-103, flew on other NASA spacecraft as well, such as Cassini and Dawn.

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According to NASA, the test last Wednesday saw the probe fire the TCM thrusters for 10 milliseconds in a series of pulses that demonstrated that they were capable of taking over the task of attitude control.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test".

The last time these engines were run in 1980.

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

The discovery that the TCM thrusters still work has been the cause for celebration for the Voyager project team.

Considering how the odds were stacked against it, Voyager 1's new lease on life, even if just three years at most, is nothing short of a miracle.

Voyager 1 is in interstellar space and Voyager 2 is now in the "Heliosheath" - the outermost layer of the heliosphere where the solar wind is slowed by the pressure of interstellar gas. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.

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