Whereas some spacecraft get the prospect to exit in a blaze of glory, others are in it for the lengthy haul – Voyager 1 extra so than another. The mission celebrated its 40th anniversary this yr, but it surely’s not only a lump of steel floating via interstellar house: that child nonetheless runs. Thrusts, fairly.
After all, many components of the Voyager craft nonetheless work regardless of their age — they’ve been sending dependable telemetry again since launch, together with the memorable knowledge in 2012 indicating that Voyager 1 had entered interstellar house. However the crafts’ energy sources are estimated to run dry round 2025, at which level they may not be reachable.
In anticipation of that second, maybe, a bunch of engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been kicking the tires on Voyager 1. They observed that the craft’s perspective management thrusters, which it makes use of to maintain itself pointed the best path, have been falling in effectivity for years.
Fortuitously, the Voyagers are geared up with backup thrusters included with this eventuality in thoughts. Just one drawback: the final time they have been used was 37 years in the past, in 1980.
To reawaken these dormant thrusters the crew had to return to the unique Voyager documentation.
“The Voyager flight crew dug up decades-old knowledge and examined the software program that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to verify we may safely take a look at the thrusters,” mentioned JPL’s Chris Jones, who led the hassle, in a JPL information launch.
That’s as a result of for all of the crew now is aware of, not being the unique software program engineers, there could possibly be some bug or unusual characteristic within the code that may interrupt regular operations or (heaven forbid). And the thrusters had by no means been examined for the 10-millisecond “puffs” wanted for reorientation.
On November 28, the crew despatched the sign to heat up the thruster and hearth off a number of puffs. The radio waves traveled for 19 hours and 35 minutes earlier than reaching Voyager 1 13 billion miles away; 19 hours and 35 minutes after that, they acquired the outcomes of their little experiment.
“The temper was considered one of reduction, pleasure and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters decide up the baton as if no time had handed in any respect,” mentioned Todd Barber.
The take a look at went so effectively that not solely will Voyager 1 be switching over to the backup thrusters till there’s not sufficient energy to maintain them heat, however they’re wanting into to doing the identical factor for its twin, Voyager 2 — after correct testing, after all.