NASA’s Voyager 1 probe is finally excited about interstellar space again.
After months of sending unwanted data about its health to flight controllers on Earth, 45-year-old Voyager 1 is beaming back clear telemetry data about its status outside our solar system. NASA knew the problem was somewhere in the spacecraft’s articulation and control system, or AACS, that keeps Voyager 1’s antenna pointed toward Earth. But the solution was surprising.
“The AACS had started sending the telemetry data through an onboard computer that was known to have failed years ago, and the computer corrupted the information,” NASA officials wrote in an update.
(opens in new tab) Tuesday (Aug. 30). The rest of the spacecraft was apparently fine and collecting data as normal.
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When engineers began to suspect Voyager 1 was using an empty computer, they simply sent a command to the probe so that the AACS system would use the correct computer to call home. It was a low-risk, but time-consuming, solution. A radio signal takes nearly 22 hours to reach Voyager 1, which was 14.6 billion miles (23.5 billion kilometers) from Earth on August 30, growing by the second.
Now that Voyager 1’s data flaw has been resolved, NASA is now pondering a new mystery: what caused it.
“We’re thrilled to have the telemetry back,” Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd said in a statement.
(opens in new tab). “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.”
Related: Voyager 1 celebrates 10 years in interstellar space
Engineers suspect Voyager 1 began routing its health and status telemetry through the dead computer after receiving a bad command from yet another on-board computer. That would point to another problem lurking in Voyager 1’s computer brain, but mission managers don’t think it poses a long-term threat to the iconic spacecraft’s health.
Still, they would like to know exactly what is happening in Voyager 1.
“So we’re cautiously optimistic, but we still have more research to do,” Dodd said in the statement.
NASA launched the Voyager 1 spacecraft and its twin Voyager 2 in 1977 on a mission to explore the outer planets of the solar system. Voyager 1 flew past Jupiter and Saturn on its primary mission and kept going, eventually entering interstellar space in 2012, with Voyager 2 reaching that milestone in 2018.
You can follow the status of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 on this NASA website
(opens in new tab).
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