Voyager 1 continues to function well, despite its advanced age and distance of 14.5 billion miles (23.3 billion kilometers) from Earth. And it can receive and execute commands sent by NASA, as well as collect and send back scientific data.
But the indications from the hinge and stop control system, which control the spacecraft’s orientation in space, do not match what the Voyager actually does. The hinge and stop control system, or AACS, ensures that the probe’s high-gain antenna remains pointing toward Earth so that Voyager can send data back to NASA.
Due to the Voyager’s interstellar location, it takes light 20 hours and 33 minutes to travel in one direction, so calling and answering a message between NASA and Voyager takes two days.
So far, the Voyager team believes that AACS is still working, but the instrument’s data readings seem random or weak. The system problem has not caused anything to put the spacecraft into “safe mode” so far. Then only basic operations occur so that engineers can diagnose a problem that would put the spacecraft in danger.
And the Voyager signal is as strong as ever, which means that the antenna is still pointing towards the Earth. The team is trying to determine if this incorrect data is coming directly from this device or if it is caused by another system.
“Until the nature of the issue is better understood, the team cannot predict whether this could affect how long the spacecraft can collect and transmit scientific data,” NASA said in a statement.
“A mystery like this is somewhat like going through this stage of the Voyager mission,” said Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, in a statement.
“The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners expected. We are also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft has ever flown before. There are some big challenges for But I think if there is a way to solve this problem with AACS, our team will find it. “
If the team does not identify the source of the problem, it can simply adjust to it, Dodd said. Or if they can find it, the problem can be solved by making a software change or relying on a redundant hardware system.
Voyager has already relied on backup systems to last as long as it has. In 2017, the probe launched propellants used in its early planetary encounters in the 1970s – and they were still operating after being unused for 37 years.
Aging detectors produce very little power per year, so subsystems and heaters have been switched off for years, so critical systems and scientific instruments can continue to operate.
Voyager 2, a twin spacecraft, continues to operate well in interstellar space 12.1 billion miles (19.5 billion kilometers) from Earth. By comparison, Poseidon, the farthest planet from Earth, is at most just 2.9 billion miles away. Both probes were launched in 1977 and have far exceeded their original purpose of flying around planets.
Now, they have become the only two spacecraft to collect data from interstellar space and provide information about the sun or the bubble created by the sun extending beyond the planets of our solar system.