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Voyager 1 fires thrusters last used in 1980 - and they worked!

Voyager 1 fires thrusters last used in 1980 - and they worked!

The Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977, has fired up a pair of thrusters that haven't been used for 37 years. They commanded the spacecraft to fire a set of four trajectory thrusters for the first time in 37 years to determine their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses.

While the ACMs work, since 2014 they've use more fuel than in the past.

And even after Voyager 1 dies - or if we lose contact with it - the spacecraft is ready to achieve great things.

The JPL's engineers began to look into alternatives, and found a new way to steer the spacecraft: the probe's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters. As the TCMs are mounted on the craft's rear and Voyager doesn't need a speed boost - it's already doing 17.46 km/hour - they've been left alone since 1980.

"We got more excited with each milestone in the thruster test".

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According to a statement, the Voyager team chose to go for a bit of a wildcard, agreeing on an "unusual solution" that involved firing up a set of four backup thrusters, which hadn't been used since 1980. 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. Since both Voyager 1 and 2 are supposed to last billions of years, the mementos of Earth that they carry could eventually be the only surviving trace of human life. These are located on the back of the spacecraft and are identical to the thrusters that they've used so far.

"Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, they learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly - and just as well as the attitude control thrusters", the statement said. It did. After almost four decades of dormancy, the Aerojet Rocketdyne manufactured thrusters fired perfectly. "The team waited eagerly as the test results traveled through space, taking 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California, that is part of NASA's Deep Space Network". The spacecraft will have to turn on one heater on each of the four TCM thrusters, putting a further drain on Voyager 1's decaying plutonium power source.

The team will switch over to the TCM thrusters in January, but there is a drawback: they require heaters to operate, which will draw on the probe's limited power.

Scientists expect Voyager 2 to make the crossing into interstellar space within a few years, heading in a different direction from the sun.

NASA says the test went so well it will try a similar switch on Voyager 2, which is set to enter interstellar space in the next few years.