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A bizarre mystery surrounding NASA Voyager 1 probe is being investigated

Published May 19th, 2022 2:56PM EDT
Voyager 1 in space
Image: Aleksandr / Adobe

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NASA is investigating an issue with Voyager 1’s telemetry data. The space agency shared news of the investigation this week. NASA says that Voyager 1 continues to return science data and is otherwise operating as expected. However, there is a system data issue that has cast a bit of a mystery over the mission.

NASA is investigating a mysterious issue with Voyager 1

illustration of Voyager 1 in spaceImage source: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Voyager 1 has been exploring space since 1977. With almost 45 years of space travel in its past, the spacecraft has been through a lot. And it has discovered quite a lot, too. While it continues to return science data as it was designed to do, engineers noticed a new issue pop up that they’re trying to figure out.

The issue has to do with the readouts from the probe’s attitude articular and control system. The AACS is still working, however, the telemetry data it’s returning seems invalid. As such, it doesn’t always reflect the possible state that the AACS could actually be in.

NASA says that the issue hasn’t triggered any of Voyager 1’s onboard fault protection systems. Those systems are designed to put the probe into a “safe mode” stage, where only essential systems are operational.

The signal output from the probe hasn’t weakened, either, NASA says. As such, the engineers are confident that the probe’s antenna is still set in its prescribed orientation with Earth. But what’s causing the issue? That’s what NASA engineers hope to determine.

An issue 45 years in the making

Voyager 1 has been exploring space since 1977, along with Voyager 2. The second probe hasn’t recorded any issues and is still operating as expected. And, for the most part, so is Voyager 1. The probe is currently 14.5 billion miles away from Earth.

Because of this distance, it takes two days for messages the team sends to Voyager 1 to arrive at the probe. It’s a delay that the engineers have become accustomed to, though, NASA says. Also, because both probes are out in interstellar space, there’s so much we don’t know about the high radiation that could be causing issues for the probe.

Suzanne Dodd, a project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that it’s possible the team won’t find the source of the issue. Instead, they may simply adapt to work with the anomaly. After all, both the probes have been running much longer than they were designed to. As such, every day is another chance to gather vital information about this unexplored region of space.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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