US space agency NASA has successfully fired up a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft after 37 years of being unused.
Voyager 1, which has been flying for 40 years, is the only humanmade object in interstellar space and is the farthest and fastest spacecraft of NASA.
For making a communication with Earth, the spacecraft relies on small devices called thrusters and these thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or "puffs", lasting mere milliseconds, to subtly rotate the spacecraft so that its antenna points at our planet.
The condition of thrusters, called "attitude control thrusters", which were being used to orient the spacecraft, started detioriating after 2014 and a new way had to be discovered to keep its antenna pointing the right direction.
After exploring various options to solve the problem, a group of propulsion experts at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory came up with an unusual solution that will try giving the job of orientation to a set of four backup thrusters that had been asleep since 1980.
"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.
On Tuesday, Voyager engineers sent a command to fire the four “trajectory correction maneuver (TCM)” thrusters and it took 19 hours and 35 minutes for the test results to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California.
On Wednesday, the engineers “learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly — and just as well as the attitude control thrusters,” said NASA.
The plan going forward is to switch to the TCM thrusters in January, it said.
NASA added it will likely do a similar test on the TCM thrusters for Voyager 2, the twin spacecraft of Voyager 1.