Category Archives: History

Voyager 1 Fires the Thrusters

After 37 years the thrusters on Voyager 1 are fired to adjust the spacecraft to keep the antennas in alignment. Outstanding!

You can see the current status of both Voyager spacecraft at NASA’s Voyager Mission Status page.

I also like the check the status at The Sky Live.

So here’s what happened from NASA — If you tried to start a car that’s been sitting in a garage for decades, you might not expect the engine to respond. But a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft successfully fired up Wednesday after 37 years without use.

Voyager 1, NASA’s farthest and fastest spacecraft, is the only human-made object in interstellar space, the environment between the stars. The spacecraft, which has been flying for 40 years, relies on small devices called thrusters to orient itself so it can communicate with Earth. These thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or “puffs,” lasting mere milliseconds, to subtly rotate the spacecraft so that its antenna points at our planet. Now, the Voyager team is able to use a set of four backup thrusters, dormant since 1980.

“With these thrusters that are still functional after 37 years without use, we will be able to extend the life of the Voyager 1 spacecraft by two to three years,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Since 2014, engineers have noticed that the thrusters Voyager 1 has been using to orient the spacecraft, called “attitude control thrusters,” have been degrading. Over time, the thrusters require more puffs to give off the same amount of energy. At 13 billion miles from Earth, there’s no mechanic shop nearby to get a tune-up.

The Voyager team assembled a group of propulsion experts at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, to study the problem. Chris Jones, Robert Shotwell, Carl Guernsey and Todd Barber analyzed options and predicted how the spacecraft would respond in different scenarios. They agreed on an unusual solution: Try giving the job of orientation to a set of thrusters that had been asleep for 37 years.

“The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters,” said Jones, chief engineer at JPL.

In the early days of the mission, Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter, Saturn, and important moons of each. To accurately fly by and point the spacecraft’s instruments at a smorgasbord of targets, engineers used “trajectory correction maneuver,” or TCM, thrusters that are identical in size and functionality to the attitude control thrusters, and are located on the back side of the spacecraft. 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. Back then, the TCM thrusters were used in a more continuous firing mode; they had never been used in the brief bursts necessary to orient the spacecraft.

All of Voyager’s thrusters were developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne. The same kind of thruster, called the MR-103, flew on other NASA spacecraft as well, such as Cassini and Dawn.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, Voyager engineers fired up the four TCM thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses. 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.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, they learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly — and just as well as the attitude control thrusters.

“The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test. The mood was one of relief, joy and incredulity after witnessing these well-rested thrusters pick up the baton as if no time had passed at all,” said Barber, a JPL propulsion engineer.

The plan going forward is to switch to the TCM thrusters in January. To make the change, Voyager has to turn on one heater per thruster, which requires power — a limited resource for the aging mission. When there is no longer enough power to operate the heaters, the team will switch back to the attitude control thrusters.

The thruster test went so well, the team will likely do a similar test on the TCM thrusters for Voyager 2, the twin spacecraft of Voyager 1. The attitude control thrusters currently used for Voyager 2 are not yet as degraded as Voyager 1’s, however.

Voyager 2 is also on course to enter interstellar space, likely within the next few years.

Artists concept: NASA/JPL-Caltech — click here to get to a larger version suitable for your desktop.

Home Sweet Home

Just look at this beautiful view of Earth from 10,000 miles / 16,100 km — taken in 1967!   As is usually the case you can click the image for a larger version; however in this case you should go to NASA’s Image of the Day and get the REALLY large version.

NASA — On November 9, 1967, the uncrewed Apollo 4 test flight made a great ellipse around Earth as a test of the translunar motors and of the high speed entry required of a crewed flight returning from the Moon. A 70mm camera was programmed to look out a window toward Earth, and take a series of photographs from “high apogee.” Seen looking west are coastal Brazil, the Atlantic Ocean, West Africa and Antarctica. This photograph was made as the Apollo 4 spacecraft, still attached to the S-IVB (third) stage, orbited Earth at an altitude of 9,544 miles.

Credit: NASA/Yvette Smith

BTW: There will be launch of a Cygnus cargo spaceship to the International Space Station on Saturday. Orbital ATK is planning on launching the CRS-8 mission from NASA’s Whallops Flight Facility.

Another Hero Gone

Astronaut Richard “Dick” Gordon passed away on 06 November 2017 at the age of 88. Mr. Gordon was the pilot of Apollo 12 and was one of only a handful of people to visit the moon.

NASA had this nice biography (NASA / Steve Fox):
Gordon, a retired U. S. Navy captain, became an astronaut in 1963. He spent more than 316 hours in space on two missions. He was the pilot for the three-day Gemini 11 mission in 1966 and performed two spacewalks. At the time of the flight, Gemini 11 set the world altitude record of 850 miles.

Gordon was born in Seattle, Washington in 1929. He graduated from North Kitsap High School in Poulsbo, Washington in 1947, then received a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from the University of Washington in 1951.

In 1953, Gordon received his wings as a naval aviator. He then attended All-Weather Flight School and jet transitional training and was subsequently assigned to an all-weather fighter squadron at the Naval Air Station at Jacksonville, Florida.

In 1957, he attended the Navy’s Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland, and served as a flight test pilot until 1960. During this tour of duty, he did flight test work on the F8U Crusader, F11F Tigercat, FJ Fury, and A4D Skyhawk, and was the first project test pilot for the F4H Phantom II. He served with Fighter Squadron 121 at the Miramar, California, Naval Air Station as a flight instructor in the F4H and participated in the introduction of that aircraft to the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. He was also flight safety officer, assistant operations officer, and ground training officer for Fighter Squadron 96 at Miramar.

Gordon made a second flight in 1969 as command pilot on Apollo 12 with spacecraft commander, Charles Conrad and lunar module pilot, Alan Bean. Throughout the 31-hour lunar surface stay by Conrad and Bean, Gordon remained in orbit around the moon on the command module, “Yankee Clipper.”

Since retiring from NASA, Gordon served as Executive Vice President of the New Orleans Saints Professional Football Club in the National Football League and held executive positions at several companies in the oil and gas, engineering and technology industries.

In November 2005, NASA honored veteran Gordon with an Ambassador of Exploration award. NASA presented these prestigious awards to the astronauts who took part in the nation’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs from 1961 to 1972. Ambassadors of Exploration help NASA communicate the benefits and excitement of space exploration.

Video: News, Science, Tech and Health

ESO Kilonovae

What? Wow, this is GREAT! Not just the initial discovery, but what actually happened, two neutron stars colliding and by the way that was “only” 130 million light-years away. Close enough.

Congratulations ESO!!!

ESO — For the first time ever, astronomers have observed both gravitational waves and light (electromagnetic radiation) from the same event, thanks to a global collaborative effort and the quick reactions of both ESO’s facilities and others around the world.

ESO’s fleet of telescopes in Chile have detected the first visible counterpart to a gravitational wave source. These historic observations suggest that this unique object is the result of the merger of two neutron stars. The cataclysmic aftermaths of this kind of merger — long-predicted events called kilonovae — disperse heavy elements such as gold and platinum throughout the Universe. This discovery, published in several papers in the journal Nature and elsewhere, also provides the strongest evidence yet that short-duration gamma-ray bursts are caused by mergers of neutron stars.

Read the whole story – except what they were actually doing at the time – be fun to hear about the first few moments of realization of what was going on.

Happy 40th Voyager 1

Wow!  Launched on 05 September 1977 Voyager 1 is still flying after 40 years!  Congratulations to the Voyager program and NASA!

The image above is the  Voyager 40th Anniversary disco poster. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech and you can get your own by clicking here.

If by chance you are near Washington DC and can get to the Smithsonian  National Air and Space Museum you can attend the live public event commemorating the event.  Most of us will of course not make the journey but no matter we can watch the event live on NASA TV.

Here’s the details from NASA including a link to the live feed:

NASA and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum will celebrate 40 years of the Voyager 1 & 2 spacecraft — humanity’s farthest and longest-lived mission — with a public event at 12:30 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, Sept. 5.

The observance will take place at the National Air and Space Museum located at Independence Avenue at 6th street SW in Washington. The event will be broadcast live on NASA Television and streamed on the agency’s website.

Activities will include panel discussions about the Voyagers’ creation and mission history, their unprecedented science findings and imagery, impact on Earth’s culture and how the spacecraft inspired countless scientists, engineers and the next generation of explorers. The event also will include a galactic message transmitted toward the Voyager 1 spacecraft by a celebrity guest.

The Voyagers’ original mission was to explore Jupiter and Saturn. Although the twin spacecraft are now far beyond the planets in the solar system, NASA continues to communicate with them daily as they explore the frontier where interstellar space begins.

Participants in the Sept. 5 event are:

  • Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington
  • Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist, Caltech, Pasadena, California
  • Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena
  • Gary Flandro, Voyager Mission Grand Tour creator, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Alan Cummings, Voyager researcher, Caltech
  • Ann Druyan, writer/producer, Golden Record Visionary
  • Morgan Cable, researcher, JPL
  • Eric Zirnstein, researcher, Princeton University, New Jersey
  • Matthew Shindell, curator, National Air and Space Museum

Voyager 2 Sees Neptune

On Aug. 25, 1989, NASA’s Voyager 2 made its historic flyby of Neptune and that planet’s largest moon Triton. The Cassini mission is publishing this image to celebrate the anniversary of that event.

I remember this well, I was downloading the images on Slow Scan Television (SSTV) along with many-many other ham radio operators. Good times!

This is cropped and magnified version of the original provided in monochrome with Triton visible as a point of light above and to the left of Neptune.

NASA – In imaging Neptune, Cassini’s solar system family portrait-taking is complete. The mission’s planetary photojournal includes all of the major planets except Mercury, which is too close to the Sun to be imaged, as well as dwarf planet Pluto.

This view was acquired by the Cassini narrow-angle camera on Aug. 10, 2017, at a distance of approximately 2.72 billion miles (4.38 billion kilometers) from Neptune. Red, blue and green filter images were combined to create the natural color image.

Credit: NASA
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute