Voyager 1 Just Fired Its Thrusters for the First Time in 37 Years

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Voyager 1 just fired up a set of thrusters that have been dormant for 37 years. The aging spacecraft, first launched in 1977, is the fastest and most well-traveled spacecraft ever launched by NASA. It is also the first object made by humans to reach interstellar space, the vast world beyond our solar system.

The satellite relies on “attitude control” thrusters to orient itself so it can communicate with Earth using the Deep Space Network. The Voyager team had noticed diminishing returns on these thrusters since 2014, with the thrusters needing to fire up more often to give off the same amount of energy. To extend the life of the mission, researchers came up with the novel idea of reactivating the craft’s “trajectory correction maneuver” (TCM) thrusters.

Communication’s Next Frontier
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The TCM thrusters are identical to the degrading attitude control thrusters, only they are located on the back side of the satellite. They also hadn’t been switched on since the craft’s encounter with Saturn in 1980 and had never been used for the purpose of orienting the craft for communication.

Still, the team though the TCM thrusters might suit their purposes, so on November 28, they decided to fire them up with 10-millisecond pulses to test if they could be a viable replacement for the nearly spent thrusters. The team was delighted when the results of their test were resoundingly positive.

“The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test,” said Todd Barber, a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) propulsion engineer, in a JPL news release. “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.”

Voyager’s Voyage

The TCM thrusters will officially take over for the attitude control thrusters in January, and the Voyager team predicts that the backup thrusters will add another two to three years to Voyager 1’s mission. However, the TCM thrusters operate with the use of heaters, which drain Voyager 1’s limited power, so it is not a permanent switch. Once their ability to utilize the backups is diminished, the team will switch back to the original thrusters for the remainder of the mission.

And Voyager 1 has enjoyed a storied mission, indeed. The craft provided us with highly detailed images of our solar system’s largest planet, Jupiter, in 1979, followed by images of Saturn in 1980. The gravity of one of Saturn’s moons, Titan, disrupted the trajectory of Voyager 1, so instead of flying by the rest of the solar system, the craft headed toward interstellar space. Thirty-four years after launching, Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to travel beyond our solar system.

Image credit: NASA/JPL
Image credit: NASA/JPL

New probes, like the planned Breakthrough Starshot, could actually reach the nearest star after the Sun, Alpha Centauri, within 20 to 50 years. The biggest problem facing future interstellar travel isn’t getting spacecraft to the stars, but slowing them down enough for the craft to gather meaningful data from their missions. Scientists are proposing ideas to help in this arena, including magnetic sails to slow satellites once they reach their destination.

Thanks to the innovation of dedicated scientists, Voyager 1 can continue its mission, and each additional year the craft is in operation, it has the potential to deliver new insights into the world beyond our solar system.

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NASA fired up Voyager 1’s backup thrusters for the first time in 37 years

NASA is getting really good at squeezing every last bit of life out of its hardware. It recently extended the Dawn spacecraft’s mission over Ceres for a second time, while New Horizons is on its way to check out a small icy body called 2014 MU69 in January 2019. Yesterday, NASA announced that it has successfully fired up four of Voyager 1’s backup thrusters, which haven’t been used since 1980, which should extend its life by a couple of years.

Voyager 1 is the only human-made object flying outside of our solar system, and it’s still communicating with Earth by way of the Deep Space Network, which allows engineers to send it instructions. The probe currently uses its attitude control thrusters to make tiny corrections — firing for only…

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NASA to release Voyager Golden Record as a vinyl box set

Speaking as a space-loving child of the '70s and a music fan, it was hard to contain my excitement when NASA took to Kickstarter to fund a pressing of the space agency's Voyager Golden Records. Sent into space in 1977, the Golden Record contained sou…
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NASA is beaming a tweet into space in honor of Voyager 1’s 40th anniversary

Boldly going where no tweet has gone before.

We’re used to our tweets being sent to the cloud, but one lucky tweeter is having his tweet beamed through space to be archived on NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft.

Let’s back up. On this day 40 years ago, Voyager 1 launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. — 16 days after its twin, Voyager 2.

Originally launched to explore Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, the Voyager spacecrafts completed their mission in 1989 and continued on to explore the solar system. Forty years later, they are still sending pictures back to Earth, from more than 10 billion miles away.

The twin Voyager spacecraft took some of the very first up-close images of planets in our solar system, like Jupiter and…

Posted by NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration on Sunday, September 3, 2017

To honor the 40th anniversary of Voyager 1’s launch, NASA has been collecting tweets and other social media posts sent in with the hashtag #MessageToVoyager.

Captain James Kirk of the Starship Enterprise — er, actor William Shatner — read the winning tweet from Oliver Jenkins during NASA’s live event honoring Voyager’s anniversary. Jenkins, tweeting from the handle @Asperger_Nerd, wrote, “We offer friendship across the stars. You are not alone.”

The transmitted tweet will be in space along with Voyager 1’s “Golden Record,” a 12-inch, gold-plated copper phonograph record, which contains images and sounds of life on Earth, as a welcome message from humans on Earth.

According to NASA engineer Jeff Berner, the tweet will be sent into space from a 70-meter antenna outside of Madrid. Just 56 text characters long, the tweet was translated into 448 bits so that NASA could send it through as a Voyager command message format.

It took 28 seconds to transmit the tweet, and the message will reach Voyager 1 in a little more than 19 hours. So while the tweet won’t be imprinted on the record itself, it will join Voyager billions of miles out in space in the hopes that alien life might find it and respond.

It’s unclear how long the message will continue to travel into space once it catches up to Voyager 1.

An image of NASA’s Golden Record sent with Voyager 1 and 2 to describe life on earth to aliens NASA/JPL

NASA doesn’t provide a full archive of what was sent to space on the Golden Record, but there’s a color spectrum, a diagram of a fetus and pictures of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It also provides audio recordings on the record, including several “Greetings to the Universe” in languages from all over the world.

So, happy 40th anniversary, Voyager 1! Here’s hoping that the aliens like our tweets.


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NASA’s Voyager Spacecrafts Are Still Going Strong 40 Years Later

They Just Keep Going and Going and Going…

NASA’s Voyager spacecrafts were initially launched in 1977, and 40 years later, NASA can confirm that both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are still functioning and making their way through space. Neither is showing any signs of slowing, and it’s unlikely they’ll need to be shut down anytime soon.

Everyday, the pair of spacecrafts send information back to NASA regarding the conditions of their current locations, which includes areas where our Sun has minimal to no influence. Voyager 1, which is 13 billion miles away from Earth, travels through interstellar space, moving northward out of the plane containing our planets. Voyager 2, meanwhile, is 11 billion miles away from Earth, and moving southward.

interstellar space

Both have seen a lot over the years, including Voyager 2’s flyby of the four outer planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune — volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io, an Earth-like atmosphere on Saturn’s moon Titan, and geysers of icy cold nitrogen on Neptune’s moon Triton. Voyager 1 was the first to reach interstellar space, and is currently the only spacecraft to do so, though Voyager 2 is expected to do the same relatively soon.

“I believe that few missions can ever match the achievements of the Voyager spacecraft during their four decades of exploration,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA Headquarters. “They have educated us to the unknown wonders of the universe and truly inspired humanity to continue to explore our solar system and beyond.”

Thanks to the two probes and their opposing trajectories, NASA scientists have been able to gather invaluable information on the heliosphere — the bubble of solar wind containing our system’s planets. When Voyager 2 reaches interstellar space within the next few years, scientists will be able to see how the heliosphere interacts with the interstellar medium from multiple locations simultaneously; this medium being a region in which the magnetic field is being affected by nearby solar wind. The existence of this medium was first noticed by NASA in 2015, three years after Voyager 1 made it to interstellar space.

Image Credit: NASA

There’s little concern regarding the safety and durability of each spacecraft, despite when they were designed and built. That said, the scientists and engineers of today are different from their 70s counterparts, and as such, maintenance sometimes needs a very specific kind of person. “The technology is many generations old, and it takes someone with 1970s design experience to understand how the spacecraft operate and what updates can be made to permit them to continue operating today and into the future,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

During their construction by JPL, the two Voyagers were equipped with three radioisotope thermoelectric generators, giving them enough power to last over a hundred years. By 2065, 88 years after they were launched, only half of their power sources will have been depleted.The JPL team in charge of monitoring and operating Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 doesn’t expect to shut down either probe until at least 2030. Voyager 1 will keep running on fuel until 2040, and Voyager 2 will run out of juice in 2034. Even after that happens, their current trajectories and speeds exceeding 48,280 kilometers per hour (30,000 miles per hour), will have them completing an orbit within the Milky Way every 225 million years.

The post NASA’s Voyager Spacecrafts Are Still Going Strong 40 Years Later appeared first on Futurism.

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