NASA announced that the already incredibly long mission of Voyager 1 will probably extend for two or three more years, thanks to a successful attempt to use propellers that have not been fired since 1980.
As NASA announced the Last Friday, Voyager 1 has been using its "attitude control boosters" (ACM) for decades, to push the probe so that its antenna points to Earth and can keep in touch.
While MCAs work, since 2014 "I use more fuel than in the past." As Voyager 1 carries a finite amount of fuel, thirsty thrusters are not welcome.
The probe has, however, other propellants: its "trajectory correction maneuver" (TCM) propellers were used for the last time when Saturn pbaded, to help point out the Voyager 1 instruments in the ringed gas giant, as the TCMs are mounted on the rear of the ship and the Voyager does not need a speed increase, is already doing 17.46 km / hour, they have been left alone since 1980.
But the Voyager teachers felt that the weakened CSFs meant that it was worth trying to see if the TCM could take over.
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Test that hypothesis It was a job for d Software developers, as said the chief engineer of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Chris Jones: "The Voyager flight team dug up data from decades ago and examined the software that was encoded in an obsolete badembly language, to make sure we could safely test the boosters ".
The fact that the same model of propeller used in Voyager 1 was later implemented in the Cbadini and Dawn probes meant that NASA had experience with the hardware.
So last Tuesday, November 28, the Voyager team told the distant probe to fire the TCM thrusters. And late the next day, after a 38-hour radio trip, they discovered that they worked and did the job as well as the ACMS.
"With these propellers … we can extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft for two or three years," said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager. He added that the Voyager team is so happy with the result, that they can also test the TCMs on Voyager 2, even though their MCAs continued to perform well.
Both Voyagers are powered by thermoelectric radioisotope generators, devices that can convert heat into electricity, but also degrade over time. NASA plans to shut down Voyagers instruments as their generators run out, leaving only radios alone. Once they even stop working, the ship has enough impetus to continue navigating the Galaxy, complete with its gold records that try to explain to humanity, until something unpleasant stops them. ®