Nearly 45 years into its space journey, the NASA Voyager 1 probe is sending back some mysterious data that has left the spacecraft’s engineers confused.
The engineering team said Voyager 1 appears to still be operating normally, as it is receiving and executing commands from Earth while transmitting scientific data. However, the data being received from the probe’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS) does not make sense to the engineers.
The AACS is designed to control the probe’s orientation and keep its high-gain antenna pointed at Earth. While it appears the system is still functional, the team said the data is sometimes showing up as randomly generated. At other times, the data does not reflect any possible state the system could be in.
Project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Suzanne Dodd, said a mystery like this is “sort of par for the course at this stage”, since the spacecraft is almost 45 years old and “far beyond wat the mission planners anticipated”.
“We’re also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before,” Dodd said. “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.”
Do you ever feel misunderstood? My team is investigating an issue with my data. Even though I’m sending signals and operating normally, some data readouts don’t exactly match what’s happening out here. While they investigate, I’ll keep doing my thing. https://t.co/1GJUP6kH6c
— NASA Voyager (@NASAVoyager) May 19, 2022
Voyager 1 flew past the edge of our solar system almost a decade ago, with NASA confirming its entry to interstellar space in 2014. During this long voyage it has sent back incredible photos of some of the outer planets of our solar system.
Even in interstellar space, the probe continues to send back interesting data. Last year, a team of researchers said a persistent vibrating hum of interstellar gas, or plasma waves, had been detected by the spacecraft.
Dodd said it is possible that the team will never find the source of the current Voyager 1 mystery and will have to adapt to it. If they do find the issue, they may be able to send a software update or use a redundant hardware systems to fix it.
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