Voyager 1 has been traversing the solar system for 45 years. Today, after its long journey through space since its launch in 1977, it is almost 23.5 billion kilometers from Earth in the “interstellar medium”, beyond the influence of the Sun, and continues to move away from the solar system at about 60,000 kilometers per hour.
Despite its high age, everything seems to indicate that Voyager 1 is still working properly. Nevertheless, NASA engineers working on this spacecraft have recently been baffled by the probe’s articulation and control system, which is generating data that appears to be completely random.
We’re investigating a mystery with @NASA Voyager one.
While the 45-year-old spacecraft continues to return science data and otherwise operate as normal, some system readouts aren’t reflecting exactly what’s happening onboard. https://t.co/yTFQ4SsOCb
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) May 19, 2022
AACS Attitude Articulation and Control System
Specifically, heScientists have found that the spacecraft successfully receives and executes commands from Earth, but readings from the probe’s attitude control and articulation system (AACS) that keeps the spacecraft and its antenna in the proper orientation, do not reflect what is actually happening aboard Voyager 1.
Apparently, the AACS is sending the spacecraft handlers junk telemetry data.
“A mystery like this is a common occurrence in this phase of the Voyager mission,” Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in a statement.
“Both spacecraft are nearly 45 years old, which is well beyond what mission planners had anticipated,” Dodd added. “We are also in interstellar space, a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft has ever flown in before.”
NASA’s statement does not specify when the problem began or how long it has lasted.
Talk to Voyager 1, a long process
The Voyager team is still examining the strange data, although it is a slow process, as it currently takes 20 hours and 33 minutes for a signal from Earth to reach Voyager 1.; receiving the response from the spacecraft carries the same delay.
At the moment, the engineers are not sure if the problem comes directly from that system or from another part of the ship.
The twin Voyager 2 probe, also launched in 1977, is behaving normally, according to NASA.
According to various scientific media, there is a possibility that NASA may not find the source of the problem. and have to make changes to the software or use one of the ship’s reservation systems, something that was already done in 2017.
However, NASA is more optimistic. “There are some big challenges for the engineering team,” Dodd said. “But I think if there is a way to solve this problem with AACS, our team will find it,” she added.
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