NASA Fires up 40-Year-Old Boosters From 13 Billion Miles Away

NASA вдалося запустити вимкнені 37 років тому двигуни

Jupiter & moons Io, Europa, Ganymede & Callisto, as depicted by Voyager spacecraft. Launched in August and September of 1977, both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 continue to communicate with Earth via the Deep Space Network.

If you tried to start a vehicle that's been sitting in a garage for decades, you might not expect the engine to respond.

NASA engineers have to resort to a set of thrusters called "trajectory correction maneuver" (TCM) since the ones that they have been using have degraded past beyond an acceptable point. NASA plans to switch to the backup thrusters in January and when there's no longer enough power for those, switch back to the main ones. Keeping a communication link open to a space probe that's now over 13 billion miles away from Earth isn't easy, and it requires precise adjustments to the spacecraft's orientation. They also hadn't been switched on since the craft's encounter with Saturn in 1980 and had never been used for the goal of orienting the craft for communication.

This artist rendering released by NASA shows NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft barreling through space. Sure, each of the four the thrusters would need to be heated individually, which would consume even more energy than they normally would.

On Tuesday November 28th, Voyager engineers fired up the four thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses. The team was delighted when the results of their test were resoundingly positive.

These small backup thrusters use hydrazine propellant and could be vital to extending Voyager 1's mission. At 13 billion miles from earth, the response from Voyager 1 takes 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach the Voyager team, even when the signal travels at the speed of light.

Last week, experts learned that the TCM thrusters worked perfectly fine.

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

"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", he added, as quoted by Engadget.

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