NASA Just Communicated With Our Only Spacecraft Outside The Solar System

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After being unused for 37 years, USA space agency NASA successfully fired up a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft last week.

Engineers wanted to see if these alternate thrusters could point Voyager 1's antenna toward Earth, a job normally handled by a different set that's now degrading.

NASA receives transmission from a spacecraft that's 13 billion miles away from Earth
NASA Just Fired Voyager 1's Thrusters For the First Time in 37 Years

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", said Jones, chief engineer at JPL.

In its heydays, Voyager 1 has flown by planets, such as Saturn, Jupiter, and also some of their significant moons.

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As of August, Voyager 1 was almost 13 billion miles from Earth, and Voyager 2 about 11 billion miles out. 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.

Ground controllers were seeking some solution and they made up their mind to evaluate a discrete rocket pack with four indistinguishable MR-103 "trajectory correction maneuver", or TCM, thrusters on the hind sight of the spacecraft that were utilized to coax Voyager 1 and sustain it on course during flybys prematurely in the commission. They are located on the back side of the spacecraft in this orientation.

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The reserve thrusters were fired back up on November 28, according to NASA.

It uses small thrusters to guide itself a journey through space, firing them in tiny puffs which last milliseconds at a time. As each milestone in the test was achieved, the excitement level grew, said propulsion engineer Todd Barber. The aging spacecraft, first launched in 1977, is the fastest and most well-traveled spacecraft ever launched by NASA. NASA plans to switch to the backup thrusters in January and when there's no longer enough power for those, switch back to the main ones. The attitude control thrusters now used for Voyager 2 are not yet as degraded as Voyager 1's, however. Voyager 2 also offered shots of Uranus and Neptune. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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