If you have a car that has been in a garage for decades, you do not expect it to start from the first time you switch the key and press the pedal.
NASA managed to bring to life, after 37 years, a series of thrusters aboard the ship, which will help Nasa to orientate the ship with its antennas to Earth so that NASA can communicate with it again.
Voyager 1 is NASA and JPL’s first spacecraft (it is more like a big satellite) that went out from our solar system, traveling in interstellar space at a speed of over 35,000 miles an hour, now at a distance of more than 13 billion miles from Earth.
Voyager 1 has two sets of thrusters, the main thrusters, and back-up or secondary thrusters also called TCM thrusters. In the 40 years since flying through space, the main thrusters have failed, and NASA has lost contact with the ship because it could not steer the ship with the communications antenna to Earth. The back-up thrusters have slept so far until now.
Nasa and JPL engineers have been thinking of bringing back the secondary (back-up) thrusters to re-orientate the ship to the Earth. “With these thrusters that are still functional after 37 years without use, we will be able to extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
To solve this problem, NASA and JPL have assembled a team of engineers called The Voyager Team. The team was made up of engineers Chris Jones, Robert Shotwell, Carl Guernsey, and Todd Barber who analyzed the options and how the ship would react to different scenarios and came up with an unusual solution to start those back-up thrusters.
“The Voyager flight team has dug up decades-old data and tested the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, so we could safely test the thrusters,” said Jones, the chief engineer at JPL. The team waited 19 hours and 35 minutes for signals from Voyager 1 to reach the antenna in Goldstone, California, the antenna that is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.
When they received the signals and saw that everything worked as planned, the team enjoyed a lot of this unexpected success at which they worked so hard. JPL engineers will also apply this technique to Voyager 2.