Spending 45 years traversing the solar system really does a number on a spaceship.
NASA traveler 1 The mission launched in 1977, moved into what scientists call interstellar space in 2012, and moved on: The spacecraft is now 14.5 billion miles (23.3 billion kilometers) away from Earth. land. And while Voyager 1 is still working fine, mission scientists recently noticed that it seemed confused about its location in space without going into safe mode or sounding an alarm.
“A mystery like this is normal at this stage 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. . statement.
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“The spacecraft are nearly 45 years old, much older than mission planners anticipated,” Dodd added. “We’re also in interstellar space, a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft has ever flown in before.”
The flaw has to do with Voyager 1’s articulation and attitude control system, or AACS, which keeps the spacecraft and its antenna in the proper orientation. And the AACS seems to be working fine, as the spacecraft receives commands, acts on them, and sends scientific data back to Earth with the same signal strength as usual. However, the AACS is sending junk telemetry data to the spacecraft controllers.
NASA’s statement does not specify when the problem began or how long it has lasted.
The agency says Voyager staff will continue to investigate the problem and try to fix or accommodate it. It’s a slow process, as a signal from Earth currently takes 20 hours and 33 minutes to reach Voyager 1; receiving the response from the spacecraft carries the same delay.
The twin Voyager 2 probe, also launched in 1977, is behaving normally, NASA said. The power the twin spacecraft can produce is always declining, and mission team members have turned off some components to save power, measures they hope will keep the probes running until at least 2025.
“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.”