"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, Voyager project manager. (It's so lonely.) Now it's almost 21 billion kilometeres from Earth.
They have made discoveries such as active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon and the intricacies of Saturn's rings. With this example before them, NASA laid a more ambitious message aboard Voyager 1 and 2, a kind of time capsule, meant to relate a story of our world to aliens. Voyager 1 is now more than 13 billion miles away from Earth, so the commands took a while to be relayed.
The one-way communication travel time between Voyager 1 and Earth is 19 hours and 35 minutes.
The research team may also carry out the same kind of test for Voyager 2's TCM thrusters, following the success of Voyager 1's test. Voyager 2's attitude control thrusters, however, are not as reduced in quality as those of Voyager 1. Now, the agency has ensured that it can maintain contact with the farthest spacecraft from Earth for at least two to three more years by waking up a set of backup thrusters it hasn't used since 1980.
Humanity's most distant spacecraft surprised its operators by answering the call to fire up rockets that have not been used in nearly 40 years. Officially in flight now for over 40 years, the Voyager 1 is one of only five objects to have achieved the necessary escape velocity to leave our planet's solar system, and is the first to actually leave and enter interstellar space.
The MR-103 thrusters, provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne, are created to fire in pulses to rotate the spacecraft and keep its 12-foot (3.7-metre) antenna pointed at Earth, but engineers have noticed more firings were needed recently, indicating the jets were losing some of their performance. But because Voyager 1's last planetary encounter was Saturn, the Voyager team hadn't needed to use the TCM thrusters since November 8, 1980. On Nov. 29, it was found that the TCM thrusters were working as good as the attitude control thrusters.
NASA plans to switch over to the formerly dormant thrusters in January. Voyager 1 was already operating on its backup branch of attitude control thrusters.
The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both.
"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test", Barber said. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched 16 days apart in 1977. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.