Artist’s conception of Voyager 1 reaching interstellar space. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft is one of the greatest achievements in space exploration, becoming the first probe to reach interstellar space, after epic flybys of Jupiter and Saturn in 1979 and 1980. Since then, Voyager 1 has remained healthy although its thrusters have been dormant for the past 37 years; the last time they needed to be used was Nov. 8, 1980. But now, the thrusters have been successfully fired up once again, not bad for such an aging spacecraft.
“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 NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
The thrusters, called “attitude control thrusters,” are used to help keep the spacecraft oriented so it can communicate with Earth. They fire in small pulses or “puffs” lasting only milliseconds each. The four backup thrusters just fired up hadn’t been used since 1980. While they had not been needed, engineers noticed that they were beginning to degrade. The engineers decided to try to address the ...