NASA’s Voyager 1 probe is finally finding meaning in interstellar space.
After months of sending unwanted data about its health to flight controllers on Earth, the 45-year-old Voyager 1 is once again sending back clear telemetry data about its status beyond our solar system. NASA knew the problem lay somewhere in the spacecraft’s articulation and attitude control system, or AACS, which keeps Voyager 1’s antenna pointed at Earth. But the solution was surprising.
“AACS had started sending telemetry data through an onboard computer known to have ceased to function years ago, and the computer corrupted the information,” NASA officials wrote in an update. day. (opens in a new tab) Tuesday (August 30). The rest of the spacecraft was apparently in good condition, collecting data as usual.
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Once engineers began to suspect that Voyager 1 was using a dead computer, they simply sent the probe a command to have its AACS system use the correct computer to phone home. It was a low-risk, but time-consuming solution. It takes nearly 22 hours for a radio signal to reach Voyager 1, which was 14.6 billion miles (23.5 billion kilometers) from Earth and was receding every second as of August 30.
With Voyager 1’s data problem solved, NASA is now pondering a new mystery: what caused it in the first place.
“We are pleased to have telemetry back,” Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd said in a statement. (opens in a new tab). “We will do a full memory read of the AACS and review everything it has done. This will help us try to diagnose the issue that caused the telemetry issue in the first place.”
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Engineers suspect that Voyager 1 began routing its health and status telemetry through the dead computer after receiving an incorrect command from another onboard computer. That would suggest another problem lurking in Voyager 1’s computer brain, but mission officials don’t believe it’s a threat to the iconic spacecraft’s long-term health.
Still, they would like to know exactly what is going on inside Voyager 1.
“So we’re cautiously optimistic, but we still have more investigations to do,” Dodd said in the statement.
NASA launched the Voyager 1 spacecraft and its twin Voyager 2 in 1977 for a mission to explore the outer planets of the solar system. Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter and Saturn during its primary mission and continued, eventually entering interstellar space in 2012, with Voyager 2 reaching that milestone in 2018.
You can track the status of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 on this NASA website (opens in a new tab).
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