Earlier this year, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was over 14 billion miles from earth – started NASA sending some crazy data. Now space agency engineers have identified and solved the problem, and no, they weren’t aliens.
The strange data came from Voyager 1’s posture articulation and control system, which is: responsible for maintaining the orientation of the spacecraft as it hurtles through interstellar space about 38,000 miles per hour.
The garbled telemetry data meant Voyager 1 was communicating information about its location and orientation that did not match the spacecraft’s possible actual location and orientation. Otherwise, the probe behaved normally, as did its partner-in-crime, Voyager 2. Both spacecraft were launched in the summer of 1977, and Voyager 1 is the farthest man-made object in the universe.
“The spacecraft are both nearly 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners expected. We’re also in interstellar space—a high-radiation environment that a spacecraft has never flown before,” said Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd, when the problem first emerged.
“A mystery like this is part of the course at this stage of the Voyager mission,” added Dodd.
Now NASA engineers have realized why the posture articulation and control system was transmitting gibberish data. The system began sending the telemetry through a faulty computer onboard Voyager 1, and the computer corrupted the information before it could be read on Earth.
tThe Voyager 1 team simply had the spacecraft send data to the appropriate computer to solve the problem. They are not sure why the system started sending telemetry to the faulty computer.
“We’re glad telemetry is back,” Dodd said in a NASA JPL release. “We will read the entire memory of the AACS and look at everything it has done. That will help us diagnose the problem that caused the telemetry problem in the first place.”
The good news is that the malfunctioning computer does not appear to be using HAL 9000 on Voyager 1; the spacecraft is otherwise in good health. On September 5, the mission will celebrate its 45th anniversary, a milestone Voyager 2 reached on August 20.
Since the telemetry problem was first made public, Voyager 1 has traveled another 100,000,000 miles. It’s a small, technical solution for humans, but one that will allow us to follow the intrepid spacecraft as it continues its extraordinary journey into deep space.
More: Voyager 2 team publishes first scientific data on interstellar space