Something is afoot with Voyager 1. The veteran spacecraft continues its journey beyond the solar systems, collecting incredible scientific data while studying interstellar space – but NASA engineers were surprised by some unexpected readings.
The readouts from the probe’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS) don’t seem to match what the spacecraft is doing. The AACS is fundamental for the craft, mainly because it keeps the Voyager 1’s antenna pointing right at our planet. If it goes off, we might never again communicate with the probe, which is the furthest human-made object from Earth.
From what they can tell, the AACS is sending randomly generated telemetry or some impossible data, but no fault protection system has been triggered and the antenna continues to be firmly keeping its Earth-bound orientation.
The team is investigating what is causing the problem, but until that is understood there is no telling what the impact will be – including on scientific observations.
“A mystery like this is sort of par for the course at this stage of the Voyager mission,” Suzanne Dodd, project manager for Voyager 1 and 2 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement. “The spacecraft are both almost 45 years old, which is far beyond what the mission planners anticipated. We’re also in interstellar space – a high-radiation environment that no spacecraft have flown in before. So there are some big challenges for the engineering team. But I think if there’s a way to solve this issue with the AACS, our team will find it.”
Voyager 1 is about 23.3 billion kilometers (14.5 billion miles) from Earth. Light takes 20 hours and 33 minutes to get there.