Forty-five years since its launch, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has continued its journey far beyond our solar system.
Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 left our solar system in 12 years and entered interstellar space in 2012.
Despite its advanced age and its distance of 14.5 billion miles (23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth, the probe continues to send back more scientific data as it moves to discover the vast unknowns of the galaxy.
However, new data sent back by Voyager 1 has stumped engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
On Wednesday, NASA said that while the probe is still working properly, readings from its attitude control and articulation system (AACS) did not match the spacecraft’s movements and orientation, suggesting the spacecraft is confused. about its location in space.
AACS is essential to Voyager, as it ensures the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna stays pointed at Earth so it can send data back to NASA.
“A mystery like this is normal at this stage of the Voyager mission,” Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.
“The two spacecraft are nearly 45 years old, which is well beyond what mission planners anticipated,” NASA said, adding that Voyager 1’s twin probe, Voyager 2, is behaving normally. .
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NASA said Voyager 1’s AACS is sending back randomly generated data that doesn’t “reflect what’s really happening on board.”
Because of Voyager’s interstellar location, light takes 20 hours and 33 minutes to travel one way, so the call and message response between NASA and Voyager takes two days.
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So far, NASA’s engineering team found that the spacecraft’s antenna was aligned: It receives and executes commands from NASA and sends data back to Earth, even if system data suggests otherwise.
“Until the nature of the problem is better understood, the team cannot anticipate whether this could affect how long the spacecraft can collect and transmit science data,” according to a NASA statement.
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