The Voyager 1 space probe was launched from Earth in September 1977 and is now about 23.5 billion kilometers (or 14.6 billion miles) from home — and it continues to do so. But despite that mind-boggling distance, NASA scientists have just completed a repair on the craft.
Since May, Voyager 1 has been sending distorted information back from its attitude articulation and control system (AACS), the part of the probe that directs its antenna toward Earth.
While the rest of the probe continued to behave normally, the information he sent back about his health and activities made no sense. A switch in the way data is returned from Voyager 1 has now resolved the issue.
“We’re happy to have the telemetry back,” said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager’s project manager at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Scientists found out that the spacecraft had started transmitting data through an onboard computer that was known to have stopped working years ago. The NASA team ordered Voyager 1 to switch back to the correct computer for communications.
What we don’t know yet is why Voyager 1 decided to switch the way it sent data to its home planet. The most likely explanation is an erroneous command generated elsewhere on the probe’s electronic systems.
That, in turn, suggests that there is another problem elsewhere, or else the computer switch would never have been made. However, the Voyager 1 team is confident that the long-term health of the spacecraft is not threatened.
“We’ll read the entire memory of the AACS and look at everything it’s done,” Dodd says. “That will help us diagnose the problem that caused the telemetry problem in the first place.”
Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 (which actually launched a month earlier than its twin) have traveled so far in 45 years that they are now both past the point known as the heliopause, where the sun’s solar winds can no longer be felt and space is officially considered interstellar.
Despite Voyager 1 shutting down some of its systems and losing some functionality in that time, and Voyager 2 also needing some troubleshooting, both probes continue to report back to Earth — though a message can take about two days to complete the required distance. lay.
The spacecraft has returned images of up close Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, and has continued to record and analyze the strange and wonderful experiences they have in space in recent years.
Voyager 1 has not activated its ‘safe mode’ routine, suggesting it is not detecting anything malfunctioning, and the spacecraft’s signal has not been attenuated. If all goes well, it can continue to report for many years to come.
“We’re cautiously optimistic, but we still have more research to do,” Dodd said.
You can track the probe on the Voyager Mission Status website.