Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 to study our solar system’s outer planets. To date, Voyager 1 has outlasted predictions and continues to deliver data about its voyages back to Earth. In 2012, the pioneering spacecraft left our Solar System and entered interstellar space. It has already traveled 14.5 billion kilometers from Earth, making it the furthest human-made object.
According to Paola Rosa-Aquino, writing for Business Insider, Voyager 1 of NASA is now returning strange data from beyond our solar system. Investigating further, an interview was held with Suzanne Dodd, a project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Has Voyager 1 gone delinquent?
Engineers working for NASA say Voyager 1 seems to have a problem with it’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS).
What exactly does this mean when engineers say Voyager 1 has a problem with attitude, articulation and control? It sounds like they have a delinquent on their hands!
The term AACS seems to be used interchangeably with AOCS.
A full space vehicle or satellite’s attitude and position are controlled by the attitude and orbit control system (AOCS). The spacecraft’s solar generators, thermal radiators, thrusters, and, in particular, its payload components, optical sensors, and antennas are all oriented using this function.
NASA engineers say that the AACS provides arbitrarily produced data that does not “represent what’s truly happening onboard,”
Glitches ‘par of the course’ with old spacecraft
According to Suzanne Dodd, mysteries like this are expected as par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission. Both Voyager spacecraft are about forty-five years old and have exceeded mission planners’ expectations. Currently, the twin of Voyager 1, the Voyager 2 probe, is operating correctly.
Correctly oriented antenna still sending confusing messages
The puzzling thing for NASA engineers is that the antenna of Voyager 1 appears to be correctly oriented – it is receiving and carrying out NASA commands and delivering data back to Earth. The system problem hasn’t caused the aging spacecraft to enter “safe mode,” in which it only performs necessary functions.
While the probe is still operational, readouts from its attitude articulation and control system, or AACS, do not match the spacecraft’s movements and orientation, suggesting the ship is unsure of its location in orbit.
The AACS keeps Voyager’s antenna pointing directly towards our planet, allowing it to give NASA data on the surrounding interstellar environment.
NASA has stated that the team cannot predict if this will affect how long the spacecraft can gather and transmit science data until the nature of the issue is better known.
Dodd and her colleagues are trying to figure out what’s causing the Earth’s robot emissary to relay garbage data. The engineering team faces some significant problems.
One significant difference is that light takes 20 hours and 33 minutes to get to Voyager’s present interstellar location; thus, a round-trip message between NASA and Voyager takes two days.
Dodd is confident that her team will find a way to resolve this issue with the AACS.
Voyager 1 has an amazing legacy
Over the years Voyager has achieved some amazing accomplishment which include:
- Taking images of the Jupiter moons Amalthea, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto for the first time, revealing details of their surface.
- Voyager 1 spacecraft was also the second to visit Saturn.
- It investigated the planet, its rings, moons, and magnetic field in greater depth than its predecessor, Pioneer 11.
- Voyager was the first spacecraft to pass into interstellar space.
The scientific community will really be hoping these current glitches will get resolved so that Voyager can continue providing valuable data about Space.
Feature image credit: NASA