Artistic interpretation of one of the Voyager spacecraft. One of the long-livers among the ships celebrated 40 years in August and September 2017
If your car has been collecting dust in the garage for decades, then you can hardly start its engine. But Voyager 1 traveled in space for 37 years and successfully activated its motor system on 28 November.
Voyager 1 is the only apparatus that managed to break out into interstellar space. It has been moving for 40 years and relies on a small set of devices for moving and communicating with the Earth. Engines shoot tiny impulses with a duration of a millisecond to turn the ship antenna in our direction. Now the team will be able to use 4 engines, sleeping since 1980.
This will help extend the life of the ship for 2-3 years. In 2014, scientists noticed that orientation control engines wear out and require more pulses in order to extract the required amount of energy. At a distance of 13 billion miles from us it is impossible to upgrade. The researchers gathered a team of experts from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to examine various scenarios of the apparatus’s behavior. All of them chose the most unusual solution - turn on sleeping engines.
In the early days of the mission, Jupiter, Saturn and the satellites of each flew by. In order to precisely direct the instruments, the engineers used a trajectory correction maneuver. Saturn became the latest approach, so scientists have not activated these engines since November 8, 1980.
On Tuesday, the engines for the first time in 37 years started working and were tested - impulses of 10 milliseconds. The results had to wait 19 hours and 35 minutes due to the delay. On Wednesday, it became clear that the engines cope with the task.
In January they plan to use a full-fledged propulsion system. To do this, you need to turn on one heater on the engine. The tests went so well that the team might do similar tests on Voyager 2.