NASA engineers investigating a mystery with 45-year-old spacecraft
- United States
The engineering team with NASA's Voyager 1, a spacecraft which has been exploring our solar system since 1977, is investigating a mystery. While the interstellar explorer continues to return science data and otherwise operate as normal, the team is searching for the source of a system data issue.
According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the spacecraft is operating normally, receiving and executing commands from Earth, along with gathering and returning science data. However, readouts from the probe's attitude articulation and control system (AACS) don't reflect what's actually happening onboard.
AACS not only controls the spacecraft's orientation but also keeps Voyager 1's high-gain antenna pointed precisely at Earth, enabling it to send data home. While all signs indicate that the AACS is still working, but the telemetry data it's returning is invalid.
The team continues to determine whether the invalid data is coming directly from the AACS or another system involved in producing and sending telemetry data.
"A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission. The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated. We're also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team. But I think if there's a way to solve this issue with the AACS, our team will find it," said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA-JPL in Southern California.
We're investigating a mystery with @NASAVoyager 1. 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
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1, which is currently 14.5 billion miles (23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth, explores our solar system along with its twin, Voyager 2, which is currently 12.1 billion miles (19.5 billion kilometers), from Earth. The latter continues to operate normally.
The mission engineering team is working to keep the two spacecraft operating and returning unique science beyond 2025. For this, the team has turned off various subsystems and heaters so that power can be reserved for science instruments and critical systems.