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For vehicle read Voyager 1, and for engine read a set of four trajectory thrusters, and that's exactly what NASA boffins have done. (It's so lonely.) Now it's almost 21 billion kilometeres from Earth.

The Voyager missions discovered the first active volcanoes beyond Earth, at Jupiter's moon Io, and hints of a subsurface ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa. It reached interstellar space in 2012, making it the first object made by humans to leave our solar system. But these attitude control thrusters have been degrading over time, requiring more and more energy each time they've been used.

They wanted to reposition Voyager 1, which, at 21 billion kilometres away is the space agency's most far-flung spaceship.

As humanity's first visitor to interstellar space, NASA's Voyager 1 has revealed itself to be a trooper, answering commands that take nearly 20 hours to arrive, and performing routine tasks and transmitting data back (another 20-hour one-way call) to the home planet.

The research team may also carry out the same kind of test for Voyager 2's TCM thrusters, following the success of Voyager 1's test. Voyager 2's attitude control thrusters, however, are not as reduced in quality as those of Voyager 1.

Since Voyager 1's last planetary encounter was Saturn, the Voyager team hadn't needed to use the TCM thrusters since November 8, 1980. Humanity's farthest and longest-lived spacecraft are celebrating 40 years in August and September 2017. Ground control was able to reconfigure them to fire in a milliseconds-long pulse mode; the Verge noted the ability to use the TCM thrusters as a replacement for the main set "should extend [Voyager 1's] life by a couple of years". On Nov. 29, it was found that the TCM thrusters were working as good as the attitude control thrusters.

Controllers at JPL plan to switch to the TCM thrusters full-time in January, giving Voyager 1's other rocket jets a rest. "The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test", said Todd Barber of JPL.

To reawaken these dormant thrusters the team had to go back to the original Voyager documentation. Its fellow spacecraft, Voyager 2, is on its way there, too - and both carry a small American flag and a "Golden Record", which is packed with mementos from Earth in the form of pictures and sounds.

Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 is the only spacecraft that has managed to cross the bounds of our solar system. California. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The attitude control thrusters now used for Voyager 2 are not yet as diminished as Voyager 1's, however.


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