Voyager 1’s Thrusters Fired After Decades Spent Dormant

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First launched all the way back on September 5th, 1977 the Voyager 1 space probe remains one of the United States’ space exploration history’s crowning achievements. The craft’s primary mission was officially completed in 1980, but that hasn’t detracted from interest by both space enthusiasts and NASA itself. After decades spent drifting through space with little publicized attention, the intrepid craft is once again making headlines.

NASA reported earlier this week that, for the first time in decades, Voyager 1 had its thrusters, which have remained otherwise dormant for nearly 40 years, fired up to adjust its trajectory. The space agency made the decision to engage these thrusters after another set normally used to reorient the craft stopped functioning. The craft was readjusted to better point its antenna towards earth so that the probe could continue to transmit valuable data to researchers back down on earth.

Voyager 1 was initially launched to investigate Jupiter, Saturn, and its neighboring moon Titan via flybys. This mission was officially completed on November 20, 1980. 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. Since then, the probe’s mission has been expanded to observe particles and other data in interstellar space. The craft is also famous for carrying one of NASA’s golden records, artifacts inscribed with information about the earth and humanity in the vague hope that they may one day be found and analyzed by alien species. These records were included on each of the probes in the Voyager mission.

After activating the trajectory correction maneuver thrusters on Voyager 1, NASA revealed they intend to do the same for the probe’s twin, Voyager 2. While outdated by today’s standards, the Voyager probes are still sending valuable data back to earth, albeit at a slow speed. After adjusting the probe’s position, it took roughly 20 hours for NASA to receive a return signal. Voyager 2 will join Voyager 1 in interstellar space in a few years, so discovering another way of reorienting these probes is a valuable technique for the future. NASA says they hope to extend Voyager 1’s life by at least two or three more years. They will do so by switching over to backup TCM thrusters in early January of next year.

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