A few months ago, NASA’s Voyager 1 sent back data that did not make sense. No, not an alien message, don’t worry. The readouts from the probe’s attitude articulation and control system (AACS) simply didn’t match what the spacecraft was doing. And now the engineering team has worked out what was happening.
The AACS is very important as it keeps the spacecraft’s antenna pointing at Earth. But the data was all garbled. And now we know that this was because the telemetry and health status of the system was passing through an old onboard computer that has not worked for years. And that corrupted the information causing the puzzling data stream.
Many instruments on board the spacecraft don't work anymore, either because they became faulty or to save energy. So the team suspected that this might be the case, and simply commanded the AACS to send stuff to the right computer. It worked but the underlying issue remains. Something, somewhere on Voyager 1 caused this. The team is looking for it but they aren't worried that whatever has caused this could be harmful to the spacecraft in the long term.
“We’re happy to have the telemetry back,” Suzanne Dodd, Voyager’s project manager, said in a statement. “We’ll do a full memory readout of the AACS and look at everything it’s been doing. That will help us try to diagnose the problem that caused the telemetry issue in the first place. So we’re cautiously optimistic, but we still have more investigating to do.”
Next Monday will mark 45 years of Voyager 1 in space. It is the furthest human-made object from Earth and is currently 23.5 billion kilometers (14.6 billion miles) away.