For the past 40 years, NASA’s Voyager 1, the only human-made object flying in the interstellar has been moving farther and farther away from our planet. Now, the agency has successfully fired up four of Voyager 1’s backup thrusters it hasn’t used since 1980, ensuring that it can maintain contact with the farthest spaceship from Earth for minimum two to three more years. In order to make its antenna point to Earth, Voyager often requires to rotate itself. With its thrusters, it fires various 10-millisecond puffs to align itself. However, the problem is, the ones that are used regularly haven’t been as effective since 2014.
While it’s impossible to physically check the condition of a probe 13 billion miles away, experts were gathered first to evaluate the situation. They test-fired the backup thrusters on November 28th, which successfully rotated the spacecraft just as well as the primary ones do.
“The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test. 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,” said Todd Barber, one of the propulsion experts.
As the test was successful, the team will switch over to the backup thrusters in January, enabling Voyager 1 to beam back data to Earth a bit longer. But there’s a problem. The thrusters need heaters to operate that and heaters need power, which is limited to such an aging mission. Once those backup thrusters can no longer use the heaters, the team will switch back to the attitude control thrusters, on which they have been depending. The similar test will be conducted with its younger sibling; the Voyager 2 to make sure it can also emit data to Earth after it faces the same fate as Voyager 1.