NASA uses 'Plan B' to reorient Voyager 1 in interstellar space

Going bravely where no spacecraft has gone before

But because Voyager 1's last planetary encounter was Saturn, the Voyager team hadn't needed to use the TCM thrusters since November 8, 1980. They noticed that the craft's attitude control thrusters, which it uses to keep itself pointed the right direction, have been falling in efficiency for years.

On top of the the backups sitting idle for so long, while being 13 billion miles from Earth, there was a third problem: the backups weren't used for "attitude control".

It took 19 hours and 35 minutes for the command to fire its thrusters to reach Voyager 1, and another 19 hours and 35 minutes for NASA to hear back that the engines had worked.

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.

And there's a lot we don't know about interstellar space - like, how does material from other stars interact with our solar system?

Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 and flew past Jupiter and Saturn in 1979 and 1980 respectively.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test", said Barber, a JPL propulsion engineer. These backup thrusters will give Voyager an extra year or two of life, before it loses connection with its home planet and disappears into the abyss of space.

Tracking Cyclone Ockhi in Tamil Nadu and Kerala
Singh had called up the chief minister and sought details on the damage caused by the the cyclone, an official release said. In Kerala, Ockhi has claimed four lives so far, 270 fishermen and 62 boats continue to be missing.

In anticipation of that moment, perhaps, a group of engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been kicking the tires on Voyager 1.

Aerojet Rocketdyne developed all of the Voyager's thrusters.

So, to recap: these thrusters have sat in disuse since Jimmy Carter was president, they aren't designed for this sort of task, and they're a baker's dozen billion miles away. "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, a JPL propulsion engineer.

The research team may also carry out the same kind of test for Voyager 2's TCM thrusters, following the success of Voyager 1's test. Voyager 2's attitude control thrusters, however, are not as reduced in quality as those of Voyager 1.

The Voyager team now wants to change over to the TCM thrusters in January, during a process where the spacecraft has to switch on a heater for each thruster, which needs power - a scarce resource for this aging mission.

It is expected that in the year 40,272, Voyager 1 will come within 1.7 light years of an obscure star in the constellation Ursa Minor (the Little Bear or Little Dipper) and in about 40,000 years, Voyager 2 will come within about 1.7 light years of a star called Ross 248, a small star in the constellation of Andromeda.

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