Science

Voyager 1 Thrusters Work Again After Decades

Voyager 1’s thrusters haven’t been used for decades. However, scientists from NASA fired up Voyager 1’s thrusters on Wednesday. NASA needed Voyager 1’s antenna to point toward Earth, and its initial thrusters that they usually use, have not been working as well, so they decided to try using the spacecraft’s thrusters. The Voyager 1 thrusters haven’t been used since 1980 so engineers didn’t know for certain if they were going to work properly. They fired up the backup thrusters and 20 hours later, Voyager sent a signal back to Earth, informing NASA that their test was a success.

Nasa Voyager 1 Voyager 1 thrusters
Image source: Nasa.gov

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

The Voyager 1 spacecraft was launched a long time ago and ever since, it has relied on its initial thrusters, also known as “attitude control thrusters.”  While they are still functioning, engineers from NASA noticed that the thrusters had started to deteriorate a few years ago. That’s why the NASA engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California wanted to take a look at the problem. They decided to wake up the backup thrusters of the spacecraft.

“The voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters,” Chris Jones, chief engineer at JPL, said in a statement.

With the four Voyager 1 thrusters working properly, the Voyager 1’s mission will be able to be extended.

“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,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at JPL.

The Voyager 2, twin spacecraft of Voyager 1, launched 16 days after Voyager 1. However, its primary thrusters seem to be in much better shape compared to the Voyager 1, according to NASA officials. They said that they will test the backup thrusters of Voyager 2, although that’s still not urgent.

Both spacecraft yielded great results for the scientists. Just some of their findings include identifying the first active volcanoes outside the Earth and coming across Saturn’s biggest natural satellite, CNN reports.