NASA just got a surprise when a response from deep space has been received, throwing all believers off the hook.
Voyager 1, a NASA spacecraft that has been inactive for thirty-seven years, reportedly fired up all thrusters – something it has not done for almost four decades while drifting in space.
It is truly as unexpected as is incredible, and also means that Voyager 1 can exchange information with Earth while flying a whopping thirteen billion miles away.
Voyager 1 is the fastest and most certainly the farthest positioned craft ever created by NASA, and it is also the only man-made creation that is currently in the vast star environment – the interstellar space.
The usual speed of the craft tops 35,000 mph, which means that the Voyager increases its distance from Earth with nearly 900,000 miles daily, which is approximately even to 36 times the circumference of our planet.
Voyager 1 went over the so called heliopause – the edge of the heliosphere, five year back (in August 2012), and entered the star space for the first time in human history, as no other craft had the capability to go there before.
This amazing spacecraft, which spent the last forty years flying, features a few devices that help the orientation in order to enable it to communicate with Earth. Those devices are called thrusters, and NASA prepared a statement in which they spoke about them.
The thrusters are being fired in controlled pulses called “puffs”, and they only last for a few milliseconds, but are still enough to slightly rotate the craft, creating a better angle for the antenna, as it should point towards Earth. Unfortunately, back in 2014 the people in NASA began to notice that Voyager 1’s active thrusters started to degrade. Experts from the Jet Propulsion Lab at NASA considered different options and tried to predict with maximum certainty what would be the outcome of numerous different scenarios.
Robert Shotwell, Todd Barber, Chris Jones and Carl Guernsey represented the team and they all agree up on a rather unusual way to solve this problem. That solution was to try and use for orientation of the craft a few thrusters that had been inactive for 37 years. Chris Jones, a JPL chief engineer, explained that the team had to dig through some very old data from decades back in order to examine and study the software used to create the control units of the thrusters in order for them to able to safely test these devices.
Looking for some hot stuff? I fired backup thrusters for the first time in 37 years, and they worked like a champ. This could extend my life 2-3 years. https://t.co/N0pF3nvOkO pic.twitter.com/V35vMbrHCr
— NASA Voyager (@NASAVoyager) December 2, 2017
Not long ago, on 28th of November this year, the engineers decided it was time to fire up the set of four thrusters, but had to wait in excitement for the result of this action to arrive through space, which apparently took more than nineteen hours. When that result reached the antenna in NASA’s Deep Space Network, located in the Californian town of Goldstone, everyone was more than happy to find out the test was a success. Currently the Pasadena (Cal) based Voyager team has the capability to use four thrusters meant for backing-up, unused since 1980.
— NASA Voyager (@NASAVoyager) September 29, 2017
Todd Barber recalls that everyone at the team got more and more excited with each small step in the process of testing the thrusters.
The working mood was great, based on relief, joy and a dash of disbelief, which is easy to understand upon seeing these devices work like a charm as if they were fired very recently for the last time.
Voyager 1’s launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex was more than 40 years ago. The spacecraft was launched on top of its Titan/Centaur-6 launch vehicle on 5th of September 1977, four minutes before 9:00am local time.
Suzanne Dodd, who was the project manager for the Voyager mission at NASA’s JPL, said that the fact these thrusters are still active and fully functional will give the spacecraft a few more years to live.
Everyone at the team were so pleased with the immaculate test results of the Voyager 1’s thrusters that they plan to execute another test on the Voyager 2’s TCM thruster set, which is headed for interstellar space, too. The test will probably take action in the next few years.
H/T – Source