The thrusters on NASA’s Voyager 1 just woke up after a 37-year nap in space

http://bgr.com/2017/12/04/voyager-mission-thrusters-spark-to-live-after-37-years/
When NASA builds something, they build it to last. Voyager 1, which was launched way back in late 1977, has been cruising through space now for over 40 years, and it’s still impressing astronomers. The spacecraft, which is currently over 13 billion miles from Earth, moving at a speed of over 38,000 miles per hour, was recently asked to do something it hasn’t done in over 37 years, and it somehow managed to actually pull it off.

In order to continue communicating with its handlers here on Earth, Voyager 1 needed a slight adjustment. NASA knew it needed to tweak its orientation in order to allow the craft to send and receive information, but that’s much easier said than done, especially when the thrusters required to make that adjustment haven’t even been woken up in nearly four decades. Still, NASA had to at least try, and Voyager 1 was one indeed up for the challenge.

Comments

  • 23 Comments sorted by Date Added Votes
  • If I read another article correctly, they are the backup thrusters and only have enough fuel for a couple years of operation. Presumably the other thrusters have run out of fuel. Makes the title a little disingenuous.

    Those two probes have had an amazing run though. Even just the exercise in tracking and command over those distances is a wonder. Excellent work by all involved.
    The Prisoner's Dilemma, in english - "Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups." - Quoted part from 2007, D.S Wilson/E.O Wilson.
  • It's incredible that 40 year old (at launch, so probably 45 years) technology is still functioning. They don't build things like that anymore ;)
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  • Cluso99 wrote: »
    It's incredible that 40 year old (at launch, so probably 45 years) technology is still functioning. They don't build things like that anymore ;)

    They certainly don't. We're lucky if anything lasts a year past the warranty period. My latest laptop is a perfect example. It's on it's fourth power supply and is only a couple of months more than 2 years old. It's not the supply itself, but the cable near the input barrel connector or the tiny little data pin that breaks.
    In science there is no authority. There is only experiment.
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  • Nasa has done some great things...
  • kwinn wrote: »
    Cluso99 wrote: »
    It's incredible that 40 year old (at launch, so probably 45 years) technology is still functioning. They don't build things like that anymore ;)

    They certainly don't. We're lucky if anything lasts a year past the warranty period. My latest laptop is a perfect example. It's on it's fourth power supply and is only a couple of months more than 2 years old. It's not the supply itself, but the cable near the input barrel connector or the tiny little data pin that breaks.

    Strange. I've had this laptop since November of 2009. Only had to replace the battery. (Which they refused to believe would happen.)

  • evanh wrote: »
    If I read another article correctly, they are the backup thrusters and only have enough fuel for a couple years of operation. Presumably the other thrusters have run out of fuel. Makes the title a little disingenuous.

    Those two probes have had an amazing run though. Even just the exercise in tracking and command over those distances is a wonder. Excellent work by all involved.

    I still remember reading articles on the Voyager probe mission that took excellent photos of IO. Now that's a moon with a serious problem. However.... The big problem will be when the satellites decide to return home. And bill us for the trip.
  • banjobanjo Posts: 241
    edited December 5 Vote Up0Vote Down
    kwinn wrote: »
    Cluso99 wrote: »
    It's incredible that 40 year old (at launch, so probably 45 years) technology is still functioning. They don't build things like that anymore ;)

    They certainly don't. We're lucky if anything lasts a year past the warranty period. My latest laptop is a perfect example. It's on it's fourth power supply and is only a couple of months more than 2 years old. It's not the supply itself, but the cable near the input barrel connector or the tiny little data pin that breaks.

    Strange. I've had this laptop since November of 2009. Only had to replace the battery. (Which they refused to believe would happen.)
    Ditto, most computers I've had (privately at least) have lasted for roughly 10 years after which I've seen the need to upgrade. Typically they've however died after giving them away...
    - Thomas Vikstrom (banjo)
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  • kwinn wrote: »
    Cluso99 wrote: »
    It's incredible that 40 year old (at launch, so probably 45 years) technology is still functioning. They don't build things like that anymore ;)

    They certainly don't. We're lucky if anything lasts a year past the warranty period. My latest laptop is a perfect example. It's on it's fourth power supply and is only a couple of months more than 2 years old. It's not the supply itself, but the cable near the input barrel connector or the tiny little data pin that breaks.

    Strange. I've had this laptop since November of 2009. Only had to replace the battery. (Which they refused to believe would happen.)

    It's not the laptop (Dell 7359) or power brick causing the failure (although the internal battery comes loose every 3-4 months), but the overly delicate original Dell barrel connector with that fine center pin for the PS ID.

    With the aftermarket replacements it was the wire coming out of the overly long connector and adapter that would break. The latest one I purchased on ebay has a one piece right angle barrel connector that I think (hope) is a bit more rugged and reliable.

    Making cables that are plugged and unplugged is not rocket science. The connector needs to survive being plugged/unplugged at least a couple of thousand times, and a strain relief section that spreads the wire flexing over an inch or more from where it exits the connector.
    In science there is no authority. There is only experiment.
    Life is unpredictable. Eat dessert first.
  • xanaduxanadu Posts: 3,120
    edited December 6 Vote Up0Vote Down
    redacted
  • msrobotsmsrobots Posts: 1,775
    edited December 6 Vote Up0Vote Down
    @xanadu!

    this is really cool. WOW.

    Mike
    I am just another Code Monkey.
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  • Uh, guess I wasn't supposed to say anything, and that was way off topic lol.
  • mikeologistmikeologist Posts: 72
    edited December 7 Vote Up0Vote Down
    evanh wrote: »
    If I read another article correctly, they are the backup thrusters and only have enough fuel for a couple years of operation. Presumably the other thrusters have run out of fuel. Makes the title a little disingenuous.

    Those two probes have had an amazing run though. Even just the exercise in tracking and command over those distances is a wonder. Excellent work by all involved.

    Running out of fuel is nowhere near the end of life for these little spitfires. They have power generators that will last for a lot longer than the fuel. Also since there is nothing much to slow you down in space it will keep on going.

    Interestingly enough, the total of the distance that it's traveled is less than the distance that light travels in 20 hours.
    JPL has the mission status available as well as their eyes application that will let you see a 3D view of both Voyager probes, the solar system, and even the heliosphere. and the fact that Voyager 1 is on the business side of that barrier.
    Any com port in a storm
  • IIRC the power is running low forcing NASA to turn off some instruments. According to NASA there is enough power to last until 2025. Don't know what amount of power they have though.
    My Prop boards: P8XBlade2, RamBlade, CpuBlade, TriBlade
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  • mikeologist,
    Running out of fuel is nowhere near the end of life for these little spitfires. They have power generators that will last for a lot longer than the fuel. Also since there is nothing much to slow you down in space it will keep on going.
    Yes but you need the thrusters to occasionally reorient the craft so that it's antennas point back home. Otherwise you lose contact and nobody cares if the thing is still working or not after that point.

    From the linked article:

    "In order to continue communicating with its handlers here on Earth, Voyager 1 needed a slight adjustment. NASA knew it needed to tweak its orientation in order to allow the craft to send and receive information, "
  • Agreed, remarkable impressive.

    I'm less than responsive after waking up from a 37 minute nap.
    "When you make a thing, a thing that is new, it is so complicated making it that it is bound to be ugly. But those that make it after you, they don’t have to worry about making it. And they can make it pretty, and so everybody can like it when others make it after you."

    - Pablo Picasso
  • erco wrote: »
    Agreed, remarkable impressive.

    I'm less than responsive after waking up from a 37 minute nap.
    Okay I agree with you there.
  • mikeologistmikeologist Posts: 72
    edited December 8 Vote Up0Vote Down
    .
    Any com port in a storm
  • Perhaps.

    We might guess another reorientation is required in another 37 years time or so.

    Do we know if there is enough fuel for the thrusters left to do that?

  • Those who can read have a clear advantage. No need for guesses. :smile:

    The article states that for orientation different thrusters where used and those thrusters are out of fuel now. The main thrusters used now where build for longer burn times like sling shooting around the planets while flying by. That happened 37 years ago for the last time.

    This time they needed them to fire up for a very short time, just for orientation adjustment.

    Mike
    I am just another Code Monkey.
    A determined coder can write COBOL programs in any language. -- Author unknown.
    Press any key to continue, any other key to quit

    The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this post are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119.
  • msrobots wrote: »
    Those who can read have a clear advantage. No need for guesses. :smile:


    Rude, and they engines are not empty.
    Any com port in a storm
  • hmm, not rude, true
    The thrusters which were used for this maneuver aren’t the ones the craft typically uses to tweak its position. Those “attitude control thrusters” have been used regularly, but NASA realized that after four decades they simply weren’t working as well as they used to. With that hardware in an unreliable state, they had to come up with a solution, and decided that attempting to wake up a set of older thrusters which hadn’t been used since Voyager 1 was still making its way around some of our nearby planets.

    Enjoy!
    Mike
    I am just another Code Monkey.
    A determined coder can write COBOL programs in any language. -- Author unknown.
    Press any key to continue, any other key to quit

    The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT", "SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this post are to be interpreted as described in RFC 2119.
  • msrobots wrote: »
    hmm, not rude, true
    The thrusters which were used for this maneuver aren’t the ones the craft typically uses to tweak its position. Those “attitude control thrusters” have been used regularly, but NASA realized that after four decades they simply weren’t working as well as they used to. With that hardware in an unreliable state, they had to come up with a solution, and decided that attempting to wake up a set of older thrusters which hadn’t been used since Voyager 1 was still making its way around some of our nearby planets.

    Enjoy!
    Mike

    Where does it say they are empty? It just says they used older thrusters. It does not say they are empty. I can read, and you are being quite rude.

    Any com port in a storm
  • msrobots wrote: »
    hmm, not rude, true
    The thrusters which were used for this maneuver aren’t the ones the craft typically uses to tweak its position. Those “attitude control thrusters” have been used regularly, but NASA realized that after four decades they simply weren’t working as well as they used to. With that hardware in an unreliable state, they had to come up with a solution, and decided that attempting to wake up a set of older thrusters which hadn’t been used since Voyager 1 was still making its way around some of our nearby planets.

    Enjoy!
    Mike

    I came here to enhance the thread, not to be insulted.
    To that point, I just got off the phone with JPL. I have a phone call scheduled for Monday to get definitive answers to these questions.
    I will share the results for anyone who wants to read them.
    Any com port in a storm
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