Engineers consult with Voyager’s 45-year-old guide to troubleshooting

Engineers consult with Voyager’s 45-year-old guide to troubleshooting

Engineers consult with Voyager’s 45-year-old guide to troubleshooting

In May, NASA scientists said the Voyager 1 spacecraft was returning incorrect information from its altitude control system. According to the mission’s engineering team, the mysterious problem is still ongoing. Now, to find a solution, engineers are looking for decades-old guides.

Voyager 1, with its two Voyager 2s, began in 1977 with a five-year design life to study Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and their respective moons closely.

After nearly two years in space, both spacecraft are still in operation. In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man-made object to go beyond the influence of our solar system, known as Heliopas, and into stellar space. It is now about 14.5 billion miles from Earth and is sending data back out of the solar system.

“No one thought it would last as long as it would,” Susan Dodd, Voyager’s mission project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told Ender. “And here we are.”

Voyager 1 was designed and built in the early 1970s, complicating efforts to solve spacecraft problems.

Although Voyager’s current engineers have some documents – or command media, a technical term for paperwork that describes the spacecraft’s design and procedures – since the first days of the mission, other important documents may have been lost or misplaced. وي.

An engineer conducts vibration acoustic and Peru shock tests for one of NASA's Voyager spacecraft on November 18, 1976.

An engineer works on a device for NASA’s Voyager spacecraft on November 18, 1976.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

In the first 12 years of Voyager’s mission, thousands of engineers worked on the project, according to Dodd. Dodd added: “As they retired in the 70’s and 80’s, there wasn’t much pressure to have a library of project documents. People would take their bags home to their garage.” In modern missions, NASA maintains very strong records of documents.

There are some boxes with off-site storage of documents and schematic from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Dodd and the rest of Voyager’s managers can request access to these records. Still, it can be a challenge. “To get this information you need to find out who is working on the project in this area,” Dodd said.

For the latest breakdown of the Voyager 1, mission engineers should look specifically at the boxes named after the engineers who helped design the height control system. “It’s a time-consuming process,” Dodd said.

The spacecraft’s altitude control system, which sends telemetry data back to NASA, points in the direction of Voyager 1 in space and targets the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna on the ground, enabling the data house beam. To do.

“Telemetry data is essentially a state of system health,” Dodd said. But the telemetry redouts that the spacecraft operators receive from the system have deteriorated, according to Dodd, meaning they don’t know if the altitude control system is working properly.

This archive photo shows an engineer working on building a large, dish-shaped Voyager high-gain antenna.  Photo taken July 9, 1976.

An engineer builds a large, container-shaped Voyager high-yield antenna on July 9, 1976.

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Dodd said, so far, Voyager engineers have not been able to find the root cause of the malfunction, mainly because they have not been able to reconfigure the system. Dodd and her team believe this is due to age. “Everything doesn’t work forever, even in space,” she said.

Voyager degradation can also be affected by its location in the star’s atmosphere. According to Dodd, satellite data suggest that high-energy charged particles are out in the star’s atmosphere. “It’s not possible for someone to jump into a spaceship, but if that happens, it will do a lot of damage to the electrical equipment,” Dodd said. Dodd added, “We can’t pinpoint the source of this disorder, but it could be. A factor.”

Despite the spacecraft’s direction issues, it still receives and executes orders from the ground and its antenna is still pointed at us. “We haven’t seen any deterioration in the signal strength,” Dodd said.

As part of an ongoing effort to power management that has accelerated in recent years, engineers have empowered non-technical systems in Voyager probes, such as the heaters of these scientific instruments, in hopes of continuing until 2030.

Saturn as seen by Voyager 1 as it looked back on November 16, 1980, four days after the spacecraft crossed the planet.

Voyager 1 returned to Saturn on November 16, 1980 to offer this unique view of its orbits.


From the discovery of unknown moons and rings to the first direct evidence of heliopause, the Voyager mission has helped scientists understand the cosmos. “We want the mission to continue as long as possible, because science data is so valuable,” Dodd said.

“It’s really remarkable that both spaceships are still functioning and working well – with fewer interruptions, but very good performance and still carrying this valuable information back,” Dodd said, “they’re still talking to us. Does. “

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