That interest has resulted in the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn, as well as the discovery of three new moons around Saturn using Earth-based instruments.
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 is the only spacecraft traveling through interstellar space, the region beyond our solar system.
IF you tried to start a vehicle after 40 years of it sitting in your garage, you might expect to run into a bit of trouble. We now know, however, that the adjustment worked perfectly, and it should allow Voyager 1 to keep communicating with Earth for a few more years. Voyager 1 also has "trajectory correction maneuver" thrusters or TCMs, but they worked differently and were used for a different objective, despite having the same build.
For auto read Voyager 1, and for engine read a set of four trajectory thrusters, and that's exactly what NASA boffins have done. Keeping a communication link open to a space probe that's now over 13 billion miles away from Earth isn't easy, and it requires precise adjustments to the spacecraft's orientation. 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.
More detail on the TCM thrusters can be found here.
"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters", said Jones, chief engineer at JPL.
These small backup thrusters use hydrazine propellant and could be vital to extending Voyager 1's mission.
According to NASA, the test last Wednesday saw the probe fire the TCM thrusters for 10 milliseconds in a series of pulses that demonstrated that they were capable of taking over the task of attitude control.
"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test", said Todd Barber, a propulsion engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Voyager 2 is nearing it at 11 billion miles from Earth.
Voyager 2 is also on course to enter interstellar space, likely within the next few years, and now, its attitude control thrusters are still functioning well.